Monday, September 01, 2014

Vanity Plates Of The Month

On a Saturn:  CHRY BB. Didn't seem unhappy.

SKNHLTH. I noticed there was no sun roof.

IQ MAMA.  Bud did daddy buy the car?

WLLPWR.  I like horsepower better.

SFILOVV.  Then why are you in LA?

PAREVE.  Wonder if he has two sets of cars?

Work Work Work

It's Labor Day so, conversely, take it easy.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Played Out

I recently saw a local production of a play commonly printed as The Motherf**cker With The Hat.  It premiered three years ago on Broadway with a big-name cast.  So I was surprised to see this LA production--the first in town I'd heard of--was fairly low rent, in a small theatre with a no-name cast.

They did a good job, though.  That's the great thing about theatre.  They're going to perform the same play that was already done in a multi-million dollar production, and the magic can happen or not, regardless of the money spent. (On the flip side, bad theatre is much worse that bad cinema.  At least in a movie you can enjoy the production value, but you're stuck there in the theatre with living human beings performing right in front of you, and they can feel it failing just like you can.)

The program was a bit odd, with the cast and director not giving credits, but offering gratitude.  (In general, they weren't great writers, but that wasn't their job.)  Then there was the discussion of playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis.  The program noted his plays have been produced on five continents.  So all night I was trying to figure out which.  Okay, North America we know for sure.  And I think we can rule out Antarctica.  But what of the five others.

Europe, yeah, sure, you'd expect it there.  Is Australia the odd continent out?  Could be, but they speak English there and would probably like to see a Broadway title.  Asia might not seem that likely, but it's got more than half the people in the world, so come on.  South America?  Can we take it away?  I don't know.  His characters in this play had a Latino inflection, so I wouldn't be surprised if someone put it on South of the border.  So that leaves Africa.  Who knows?  When you put this sort of information down, let us know what you're talking about.

PS  I just checked and sure enough there was a production in Southern California last year.  Not sure if it played in Los Angeles, though.

Fast Lerner

Alan Jay Lerner was one of the most popular lyricists of the 20th century. He also wrote the books to his musicals, which is a major talent in itself.  With his regular partner Frederick Loewe he created Brigadoon, Paint Your Wagon, My Fair Lady and Camelot, not to mention the film Gigi. He also worked with other name composers, including as Kurt Weill (Love Life), Burton Lane (Royal Wedding, On A Clear Day You Can See Forever) and Leonard Bernstein (1600 Pennsylvania Avenue),

He also married eight times, a different sort of talent.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Givin' some luv to LAGuy

Hmm. LAGuy moonlighting for Hulu?

Case Closed

I was watching Alfred Hitchcock Presents with the closed captioning on.  It was one of the CC cases where instead of pre-done stuff, apparently someone was typing while listening, so you get plenty of missed words, even sentences.

More entertaining are the mistakes.  Each show is introduced by Hitchcock, and this episode, "Death Scene," starts with Hitch holding a ticking case.  He opens it and finds an alarm clock.  On it he reads "tempus fugit."

So how does the CC typist hear this?  We get "tempt us fugitive." Usually they simplify, but in this case, it's seems to be someone trying to make sense of incomprehensible words.  I guess "tempt us fugitive" sort of sounds like a Hitchcock plot, but still.

PS  On another show, someone ordered "sherbert" at a restaurant, and the CC said "sherbert." I like this. No "sic" either.  If you fail to say it correctly, that's what the CC should show.

Have I Seen You Before?

Speaking of Route 66, TV used to be different.  People saw an episode once, maybe twice, and that was probably it. No one imagined box sets and Netflix.  So a show like Route 66, where leads Tod and Buz would drive into town and have a new adventure each week, liked to use actors more than once--who'd care, or even notice, if they appeared in different roles?

But I've been watching the show regularly on MeTV and it's hard to ignore.  In one episode, "A Fury Slinging Flame" (the show went for fancy literary titles), Leslie Nielsen is a scientist who figures there'll be a nuclear war soon.  Then two years later, in "Poor Little Kangaroo Rat," he's playing a different scientist who's studying the effects of cholesterol on sharks.  Did he change his name and specialty in the interim?

Tony-winning actress Tammy Grimes also makes two separate appearances.  The first time as a workaholic sonic expert, the second time--in the same season--as a physical fitness expert.  Susan Oliver, best known today as the woman in Star Trek's pilot "The Cage," stars in three separate episodes, as a death-obsessed woman, a woman with a split personality, and the girlfriend of a Viet Nam vet.  Ed Asner, who played smaller parts back then, shows up no less than five times--the producers must have really liked him.

Maybe this was a leftover from movies, when you could enjoy the same supporting actors in one film after another.  The practice seems to have ended.  I don't think those binge-watching fans would accept it any more.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Something to buy on eBay

If I were to ever buy a Rolex, I would feel pretentious. Unless it had a history.


I've always viscerally reacted to false courtesy, particularly when coupled with hypocrisy in interest.

But now I have scientific grounds for concluding that when a politician says "my distinguished colleague," he is speaking the truth.

Old Endings

I recently watched, on MeTV, the final episodes of two major 60s dramas, The Fugitive and Route 66.  The series had similarities--both lasted four seasons and both had the lead or leads traveling around the country, creating a new story in each place.  Route 66, however, was shot on location, while The Fugitive tried to make southern California look like every place.

Both finales were two-parters. The Fugitive's is famous--Dr. Richard Kimble, on the run so long for a crime he did not commit, is finally caught by Lt. Philip Gerard, but has enough time to find the one-armed man and discover who really killed his wife.  People had been waiting four years for this, and it was the most-watched TV series episode up to that point. It also effectively killed the reruns, because now everyone knew how things turned out.

The funny thing is, I didn't really watch the earlier episodes, so I wasn't particularly invested in the drama.  Yeah, yeah, big shoot-out at the amusement park.  Great.  It was in color, by the way, though the earlier seasons were in black and white, so Dr. Kimble got an upgrade.

Route 66 interested me more, even though the finale was incredibly silly.  The show fascinates me and I watched quite a few episodes (all in glorious black and white).  The two guys--first Tod and Buz, later Tod and Linc--start out each episode pulling into some new town in their snazzy Corvette.  Before you know it, they're involved in some local adventure (and getting into fights surprisingly often--these guys should be fugitives).

Most of the scripts are written by famed screenwriter Stirling Silliphant, though, to be honest, they're often pretty slipshod.  But, at its best, the show had an intensity, and also expressed a Jack Kerouac rootlessness and sense of searching that was unusual for TV.

By the fourth season, Buz--played by the intense George Maharis--is long gone and has been replaced by Linc, played by the lethargic Glenn Corbett.  In fact, Martin Milner's Tod has somehow become the more exciting character.

Anyway, the final two-parter, shot in Tampa, goes more for comedy--always a mistake on this show.  I won't go into the whole thing, but essentially it's a fight over a will, where a young woman, played by the beautiful Barbara Eden, marries Tod, while her aunt and uncles, fighting for their inheritance, try to kill him.  Don't ask why, but each of them have an accent--French, Spanish, Russian and British--even though they're all Americans. At the end of the first hour, Milner and Eden are on their way to their honeymoon when the taxi driver, in on the scheme, knocks Tod out with a wrench and throws him off a bridge into the river. The second hour has Tod secretly return and, with the help of Linc--not to mention costumes, makeup and accents that would embarrass a second-rate theatrical road company--get his revenge on each of the plotters.  Tod gets the girl and, believe it or not, no one gets the inheritance, even though the executor (played by Chill Wills) was required to give it to someone, I thought. Well, who cares.  Tod has found what he's looking for, which is what the series is about, and Linc will hitchhike back to Texas, where he's from, where he can reminisce about his years in Vietnam, and perhaps go back for another tour.

Not much of a send-off for the show. Certainly nothing compared to The Fugitive. But really the show ended somewhere in season three when Buz left.

Is There Anyone Finer?

Great jazz singer Dinah Washington was born 90 years ago today. (Though she died at 39 of a drug overdose.)

Thursday, August 28, 2014

LM Ends

For decades, Leonard Maltin's movie guide was THE reference.  It gave you the title, the year, the director, the main actors and let you know if it was in color.  Then there was a rating--from BOMB to four stars--and a short paragraph telling you about the film.  It filled a gap for movie fans, and millions were sold.

I bought the guide every few years or so, whenever I felt my old one was becoming out of date.  I often disagreed with his ratings, though that was part of the fun.  But the last time I bought it was in 2003 (as I can tell by looking at my bookshelf just a few feet away).  Why?  The Internet.  With thousands of sources for such information, and above all, the IMDb, Maltin wasn't so necessary.

Which is why the latest edition of the book, which has been put out there for 45 years, will be the last.  For years sales had been going down, and Maltin can see the writing on the virtual wall.  I'll be sorry to see it go, but he's hardly the first reference to hang it up.  Maltin himself (who's a nice guy, by the way) will continue writing and talking about movies, but it's the end of an era.


Today is the centennial of Glenn Osser. (He almost lived to see it, dying earlier this year on my birthday.)  A Michigan boy who attended U of M, he went on to become a top musician, composer, arranger and orchestra leader.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Do little

Fresh on the news that we're getting dumber is some good news. At least someone on God's green earth is pulling their freight.

More Things Than Are Dreamt Of In Your Philosophy

There's an updated version coming out of the excellent oral history of Saturday Night Live by Tom Shales and James Miller, bringing it into the 21st century.  Excerpts published in The Hollywood Reporter discuss what went on behind an SNL mainstay, its political satire.

Will Ferrell did a fine George W. Bush, but with the 2008 election, there was a problem that has hurt late-night humor to this day--comedy writers haven't been able to get a handle on Obama, or, more likely, don't want to. (I think he's as easy to make fun of as anyone, but if you like the guy and don't want to hurt him, it's hard to do the kind of humor SNL can be so good at.)

But something else almost made up for that--Sarah Palin. Tina Fey's Sarah Palin, which was probably the most significant political impression ever done on the show after Chevy Chase's Gerald Ford.  Not that they changed the election results--I question if SNL has ever been that influential--but boy did Fey's Sarah Palin strike a chord.

The dynamic that exists behind-the-scenes, it seems to me, is well-represented by writer Jim Downey and performer Horatio Sanz.  And I have to say, I think Sanz comes off as a bit of a dick.  A tried-and-true Democrat, he wants the show to go after the GOP ferociously, but when they go after the Dems, suddenly they're not doing it right.  Downey, meanwhile, is a moderate who's willing to go after anyone.

I could describe the fight further, but why not let them speak for themselves:

Downey: The biggest risk to doing political comedy is, you always seem to have a choice: Am I going to piss off the audience by trying to get them to laugh when they don't like what I'm saying, or am I going to kiss their ass and get this tremendous wind at my back by sucking up to them? The second way makes me feel like I cheated. I'm sure there are a lot of people in comedy who completely share every f—ing detail, jot and tittle of the Obama administration, and all I can say is: To the extent that you're sincere and that's really the way you feel, then you're a very lucky person because, guess what, you're going to have a very easy career in comedy because audiences will always applaud. They may not laugh, but they'll always give you [a] huge ovation. That's Bill Maher, you know?

Sanz: I don't think the show itself has ever let its freak flag fly in the last 20 years. Lorne's very concerned with being neutral so he wants to make fun of everyone. … He doesn't want the show to be this liberal bash rag. He may be a little more conservative than he lets on. … And you also have Jim Downey, who's basically the Karl Rove of SNL. He's always writing the right wing sketches, and honestly I think a lot of times they're out of tune with the audience. … I think Lorne sometimes leans too much on Downey and not enough on guys like Seth. Basically in the last couple of years, it's been Seth going up against Downey to set the show's tone on politics, and I think we could definitely have been harder on the right. They deserved it, and we dropped the ball as far as getting them.

Downey: My mission is to try to write a funny piece using politics as the subject matter, and so I go with what I think is the most interesting, potentially funny idea that no one else is talking about.

Sanz: The week that Nancy Pelosi was made speaker, the only thing that we could come up with at the time was, because she was from San Francisco, to make her a dominatrix. I thought that was really, really cheap. … It was pretty frustrating. And it continues to be frustrating. I don't really like watching the political scenes that much anymore because they're not written in the writers' and actors' tone. They're written like Downey wants to put this message out. And I think that's kind of shitty.

Downey: I used to write this stuff with Al Franken when we started out; I was a standard-issue Harvard graduate commie, and Al was like a Democratic Party stalwart. I had contempt for the partisan stuff. And I became more conservative over the years, to the point where I'm now a conservative Democrat, which means in Hollywood terms I'm a McCarthyite, I suppose. But I have to say, and even Franken agrees with me — I've talked to him about this — that the last couple seasons of the show were the only two in the show's history where we were totally like every other comedy show: basically, an arm of the Hollywood Democratic establishment. [Jon] Stewart was more nuanced. We just stopped doing anything which could even be misinterpreted as a criticism of Obama.


Happy birthday to jazz guitarist Sonny Sharrock.  Actually, his real name was Warren Harding Sharrock, which is much cooler.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Our patron saint

"Don't even talk to me," says Dan Rather.

Dan, you've got yourself a deal.

Non-Liveblogging The Emmys

Okay, let's talk about the Emmys--as they happened while I was watching, but all at once for you.  Nothing I like better than seeing rich people pat themselves on the back.

Seth Meyers comes out, does his monologue.  Takes a swipe at Orange Is The New Black submitted as a comedy.  Don't care, let's get to the awards.

Amy Poehler walks up from the audience to give an award.  A little strange.  Best Supporting Actor In A Comedy.  Usually a strong category.  Will Modern Family get it?  Yep, it's Ty Burrell, who wins for a second time. Hard to complain.  Unless you're Ed O'Neill or Jesse Tyler Ferguson, who haven't won from the show yet. (The speech is allegedly written by the kids on the show who note they never get nominated.)

Next up, comedy writing in a sitcom.  An important category, though it's unclear who the favorite is.  Maybe Veep should win, or Silicon Valley, but there's no Modern Family or a ton of other good stuff.  Alas, Academy fave Louis CK, who has a fine show, but was up for a monologue about how tough fat women have it, wins.

Supporting Actress in comedy series (including SNL, for some reason).  Stronger category than the men's this year.  The winner, alas, is the weakest in the group--Academy favorite Allison Janney, for Mom, who won one (also undeserved) already this year.

Next, Comedy Directing.  Is this a big deal?  This is TV, not movies, directors do what they're told.  Some big names here, like Mike Judge, Jodie Foster and Louis CK.  The winner is Gail Mancuso, who's won before for Modern Family, and deserves to win again for her fine work in the farcical Vegas episode.

There's a comedy bit with on-the-street interviews which allows me to go to the bathroom.

Lead Actor in a comedy. So all the comedy first, I guess.  Big names, again. Louis CK (again), Don Cheadle, Ricky Gervais, Matt LeBlanc, William H. Macy and Jim Parsons.  All meant something before their show except for the winner, Jim Parsons.  This is his fourth win.  Enough. My idea has long been once you win an Emmy for a part you're retired from the award until you play something else.

Lead Actress in a comedy.  Very little suspense--it would be a shock if Julia Louis-Dreyfus didn't win again.  And she does. She wins for the third year in a row--Veep has only been on three years--and she deserves it.

Reality competition program. Who cares?  The Amazing Race wins this award for the tenth time, but I still refuse to watch it.

Another comedy bit involving stars in the audience.  Not bad, but I'm still thinking how much faster this show would move if they just gave out awards.

Outstanding miniseries or movie or special writing.  This is a gimme for Fargo, isn't it?  They're not going to give it to The Normal Heart, will they?  Sort of a shock--Steven Moffat for Sherlock, which I don't watch.  Maybe not everything will be predictable tonight.

Supporting Actress for miniseries or movie. Lock of the night. It'll be Allison Tolman for Fargo, beating Julia Roberts and some other big names.  But a shock--Kathy Bates for American Horror Story.  Halfway to an EGOT, Kathy--too bad you didn't win that Tony for 'night, Mother.  Guess the Fargo bandwagon isn't as strong as people thought.  And they're not that impressed with The Normal Heart either.(Does this also mean trouble for True Detective. And should it have submitted itself in this category?)

Supporting Actor for miniseries or movie.  Presenter Stephen Colbert comes out an commits to a bit that isn't working.  Two-thirds of the nominees are for The Normal Heart, but Martin Freeman wins for Sherlock.  Guess show biz people don't like gays.

Directing for miniseries, etc.  Two directors up for Fargo--will that split the vote (and does the Academy care to begin with)?  Hey, Colin Bucksey wins for Fargo.  So it's only The Normal Heart that looks like it'll be skunked.

Seth and Amy takes a long time to introduce presenters Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey. They're here for Lead Actor in miniseries etc.  Some solid names (and another shot for Martin Freeman, but this time up for Fargo--if anyone wins for that show, though, it'll be Billy Bob Thornton.)  No surprise, Benedict Cumberbatch beating out bigger names for Sherlock--the Academy obviously loves this show.

Lead Actress for same category. Once again, big names. It'd be great if Kristen Wiig won for a comic performance in Spoils Of Babylon, but--no surprise--Jessica Lange wins it for American Horror Story. She's already got the E in the EGOT, though.

Weird Al Yankovic comes out and sings some TV themes with his own words--just the thing you'd expect him to do.

Top miniseries.  Is this Fargo's big moment? Yes, it is.  Once again, lucky True Detective wasn't up for this. Now top television movie--a separate (and not that great) category, but a chance for The Normal Heart to finally take something.  Or will Sherlock stomp it again?  Nope, the pull of class and Important Issues is too great for the Academy and The Normal Heart takes it.

Ricky Gervais comes out and complains he's lost 19 out of 21 times at the Emmys.  That's a problem? (Though if he'd beat Jim Parsons for his title role in Derek it wouldn't have been a bad choice.) He presents Writing for a variety special.  The most likely winner is Billy Crystal for his one-man Broadway show--is that variety?  A slight surprise--Sarah Silverman for her comedy special--another non-variety show, seems to me.

Director for variety show.  The Tony Awards wins. Really?  Seems like an inside job when Glenn Weiss accepts the award from the booth, as he's directing the Emmys, too.

Best Variety series.  Please, not Jon Stewart again. (Or Colbert.)  By the way, Fallon and Kimmel and Bill Maher are up, but not Letterman.  Has he aged himself out of the process?  Colbert wins for the second year in a row.  Colbert is the new Stewart.

Two hours down, one (we hope) to go. And we'll soon be getting to the best category, drama.

We start with Supporting Actor in a drama.  Great category--Peter Dinklage (former winner), Aaron Paul (double winner), Mandy Patinkin (Tony winner), Jim Carter (does anyone still care about Downton Abbey?), Jon Voight (Oscar winner) and Josh Charles.  Aaron Paul takes it.  I might have preferred Patinkin or Dinklgae, but this is fine--too bad some excellent co-stars on Breaking Bad never won this--often beaten by Paul himself.  Is this the start of a lot of love for Breaking Bad as it goes off into the wild blue yonder?

The in memoriam section, followed by a tribute to Robin Williams from Emmy loser Billy Crystal.

Directing of a drama series.  Shows are Boardwalk Empire, Breaking Bad, Downton Abbey, Game Of Thrones, House Of Cards and True Detective.  First real test of True Detective, and it wins. And it should--the location shooting on that show was amazing.  Looks like it may be their night.  Why not?  Everyone but The New Yorker loved it.

Supporting Actress in drama.  Two from Downton Abbey and one each from Breaking Bad, Game Of Thrones, The Good Wife, Mad Men (Christina Hendricks, will you ever win?  Probably not).  Anna Gunn wins her second in a row for Breaking Bad.  Maybe the voters just feel bad for everything Sklyer's been through?  Does this make BB favored over TD?

Writing for drama--a major award.  Two Breaking Bad's--will that split the vote?  One Game Of Thrones, one House Of Cards and one True Detective.  Notice there's no Mad Men, no Aaron Sorkin, no a whole lot of stuff.  Moira Walley-Beckett wins for what many consider to be the hugest episode of Breaking Bad ever, "Ozymandias."  Luck of the draw, but she was up to it when they broke down the stories.  And it's looking like a Breaking Bad night.

Lead Actress in a drama. Claire Danes in Homeland has won twice in a row, but the year before that Julianna Margulies won for The Good Wife. And she's good again.  Julianna wins. (Would have been fun to see Lizzy Caplan win, even if she didn't quite deserve it.)

Oscar winner and Emmy loser Julia Roberts comes out to present the Lead Actor in a drama.  The real drama of the night.  Bryan Cranston (multiple winner), Jeff Daniels (won last year), Jon Hamm (nominated every year but never wins), Woody Harrelson (if anyone wins from TD it won't be him), Matthew McConaughey (already won the Oscar this year) and Kevin Spacey (Oscar and Tony winner).  Matthew is the favorite, but it is Bryan Cranston's last chance to win--and he takes it!  He's won four times for Walter White, and McConaughey will have to be happy with his lonely Oscar.

Jay Leno shows up--just try to keep him off NBC.  They're going to sneak in Best Comedy before the Best Drama.  Will Modern Family win it five years in a row, the only show to do it other than the undeserving Frasier?  Or is Orange The New Black?  There's also Veep, Louie, The Big Bang Theory and Silicon Valley, all worthy.  No surprises this year--Modern Family takes it again.  Hey, it's a good show, but is it that good? (Of course, they never nominated Community, or anything this year on NBC, so what are you gonna do?)

Oscar-winning Halle Berry presents the Best Drama award.  The choices--Downton Abbey, Game Of Thrones, House Of Cards and Mad Men. Oh yeah, also Breaking Bad and True Detective. (Bet the latter is starting to think maybe we should have gone for best miniseries.) And the winner--not exactly a shock at this point--is Breaking Bad. It won this last year, too, and it's the big winner of the night. Vince Gilligan knows how to go out big (unlike Matthew Weiner, it would seem).

Biggest surprise of the night--the show ends at the three hour point.


Happy birthday, Valerie Simpson, of the songwriting and singing team Ashford & Simpson.  I admit I prefer them as the former.

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