Thursday, July 31, 2014

Less Bang For The Buck

Though The Big Bang Theory is supposed to be in production already, there's been a delay as the five main actors--Jim Parsons, Johnny Galecki, Kaley Cuoco, Simon Helberg and Kunal Nayyar--are still negotiating their contracts.  It's an interesting inversion of the norm.

For most actors, even working ones, getting any job is great, and they're not going to argue too much about the money--guild minimum, in fact, will usually do, unless they have a name and a quote.  But if lightning strikes, and they're on a hit, for the first time they have leverage (assuming it's not a big ensemble show where anyone could be killed off).  So instead of being thrilled to get anything, they're in the enviable position of saying we won't work unless we get what we want.

The Big Bang Theory is one of the biggest hits on TV, and after seven seasons is bigger than ever. CBS relies on this show.  It's also huge in syndication, where it can be caught numerous times a day.  Sort of funny for a concept I remember thinking was too quirky to last past season 1.

What sort of money are we talking about? The three leads, Parsons, Galecki and Cuoco, are already making $325,000 per episode, which would put them in the top 1% of income earners if they made that in a year.  They want that upped to as high as million per, plus some back end. That back end, meaning syndication, can be in the billions--that's where the producers make the big money.  The big three are wisely negotiating together--the show would take a huge hit if it lost any one of them, but losing all of them would mean there is no Big Bang.  (Though Variety has a slightly different story where the three have already been offered more than a million but Parsons is holding out for more while his two co-stars want parity. Is this correct, or is this being put out by management as a negotiating tool?  Either way, get your story straight guys.)

Helberg and Nayyar are on a different tier. I've heard they make $125,000 and $75,000 per episode, respectively. That Helberg gets more makes sense to me--he does a better job and is, I think, the more popular character.  But now they are negotiating together.  I don't know what they want, but, while I'm sure CBS and the show's producers want them back very much, they may realize that the show could arguably continue without them.  Or could it?  That's the fun of negotiation.

The two other regulars, Melissa Rauch and Mayim Bialik--both of whom joined the show in season 4--negotiated their deals last year.  They doubled their salaries to $60,000 per episode, and the number will eventually rise to $100,000.

The Big Bang Theory has been picked up for three more seasons. After that it may be over. Nothing lasts forever, and in TV, ever-rising salaries eventually guarantee a show isn't worth producing any more (except for The Simpsons). While the numbers are huge, I can understand the actors trying to make a killing.  There's no guarantee they'll ever be on a hit again.  There's not even any guarantee they'll get another job.

String Jam With SJ

Happy 55th, Stanley Jordan.  He can get more sound out a guitar than you get from some bands.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Cause and effect

"Rub-on hormone gel can banish depression"

I suppose so, but where are they rubbing it?

Yessir Issur

I just read Kirk Douglas's autobiography The Ragman's Son.  A bit odd since it was published about 25 years ago--and sold well, I believe.  Born Issur Danielovich in 1916, son of two Russian Jews who had escaped the pogroms, he grew up poor in New York, along with his six sisters.  His dad drank a lot but wasn't emotionally demonstrative, and Kirk--a stage name, of course--never fully got over it.

He was a go-getter.  With a lot of moxie, he got into St. Lawrence University, and though poor and Jewish (in an age when anti-Semitism was rampant) he actually became a big man on campus.  He then went to New York and rose through the ranks on the stage, taking some time out to serve in the Navy during WWII.

He didn't think Hollywood was good for actors but couldn't resist its siren song.  In the 40s he became a successful supporting actor, appearing in high-quality projects like Out Of The Past and A Letter To Three Wives, before becoming a star as boxer Midge Kelly in a small, independent film called Champion.

Douglas always had an eye for the ladies, and once he became a celebrity it was anything goes.  Even when he was married (something he did twice) he was falling into bed with every beautiful woman around.  The most common topic in the book, after making movies, is his many affairs (especially how he chased the beautiful, teenage Piers Angeli).

Douglas, not unlike his pal and regular co-star Burt Lancaster, was a matinee idol who gave intense, athletic performances. Maybe he didn't have the depth and range of a Brando, but he was in a fair share of decent movies and kept stretching.  Like Lancaster, he formed a production company and had a lot of say on his projects.  One of his best stories is when he talked to John Wayne after the premiere of Lust For Life, where he played Van Gogh.  Wayne was disgusted--and maybe drunk--telling Douglas they needed to play tough guys, not queers.

Many of his films are conventional cowboy or action movies, not that well remembered.  But a lot of his titles were good enough that they're still remembered and revived--Young Man With A Horn, Detective Story, The Bad And The Beautiful, Gunfight At The O.K. Corral, The Vikings, Spartacus, Seven Days In May.  And others--often his favorites--were off the beaten path and not necessarily hits, like Ace In The Hole, Paths Of Glory and Lonely Are The Brave.

He generally played heroes, but was pretty good--maybe at his best--playing edgy characters, often heels.  He fought for good roles, and didn't settle when he though he could do better, which may be one reason he had a reputation for being difficult.

Even when he became a huge movie star he still wanted to prove himself on stage. So he bought the rights to Ken Kesey's book One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest and commissioned a play.  He starred in it and brought it to Broadway. He claims the audiences loved it, but the critics were gunning for the Hollywood guy, and lambasted it. It ran for several months--Douglas's money kept it open--and after it closed he kept trying to set it up as a film.  Finally, about a decade later, his son Michael was able to set it up--but his dad was now too old for the part (at least his son believed so). Of course, the movie version was a gigantic hit and won multiple Oscars, which was a bittersweet thing for Kirk, who made money on the film, but saw it as the one that got away.

Alas, some time around 1970 his films got a lot less interesting, and though he kept working, he wasn't the star he'd been (though I'm a big fan of Brain De Palma's The Fury from 1978).  So the final chapters of the book aren't as interesting.  When he's not talking about movies I don't think much of, he's going on about world travels or health problems or gossip or political issues of the day which are now fairly dated. (Though this does lead to some interesting moments--such as when he hopes he helped OJ with financial advice, and when he notes Mia Farrow, who just had a son Satchel with Woody Allen, is the best judge of character he knows).

Douglas is still around, and has written a few books since.  But if you want a place to start, this is it.

PS.  I thought the book was well-written.  In fact, well-written enough that I wondered if he had a ghost writer. I saw no other name on the cover, or the title page. But then I saw a little note between the dedication and the table of contents where he thanked Linda Civitello for help in research and writing. I think we've found the culprit.

PA System

Happy birthday, Paul Anka.  He's been a top singer and songwriter since the 50s.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014


So, federal judge Charlie Wilson thinks doctors have a First Amendment right to proselytize in the course of medical service.

Somehow I'm thinking he's not so solicitous of patients' First Amendment rights, or their Second.

In fact, I'd guess he'd find the First Amendment is actually reason to uphold Obamacare--you have a right to associate with the doctors and "insurance" "companies" the government tells you you do.

Merry Cantos

Happy birthday, Aarre Merikanto.  He was a Finnish composer who had an atonal style before he settled back into a more classical sound.

Emily's Lost

In her New Yorker review of The Strain and The Leftovers, Emily Nussbaum can't help but mention Lost--after all, these two new shows are produced, respectively, by Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof, the two men who ran the ABC hit.

Early on Nussbaum describes Lost as a show that "began with huge ambition and then took a late-season nosedive." I suppose that's fair, though it might give the impression it didn't end with huge ambition. In fact, the ambition was as big as ever at the end.  Some though too big--that was part of the problem. (Though there is a sizable minority that likes the ending.)

At the end of her piece, Nussbaum writes that Lost "was a mystery that never got solved, leaving many viewers furious." This is less fair. Lost, good or bad, answered most of the questions it raised. The big one it didn't get to is how did the Island get to be the way it was--in face, the show explicitly stated we shouldn't even try to ask this question--and many found that annoying. But what the Island was, always the central mystery, was essentially explained.  I'd say the main complaint fans had was the resolution to many of the mysteries weren't satisfying, not that they weren't solved at all.

Monday, July 28, 2014


So Dollar Tree buys Family Dollar. Can Dollar General be far behind?

What will the new name be? Dollar Dollar? Or Tree Family?

The Show's The Thing

Ethan Mordden is a busy guy. He's written numerous tomes on popular culture, including a book on the American Musical for every decade from the 20s through the 70s.  Which is why his latest, Anything Goes: A History Of The American Musical Theatre, seems superfluous.  He's already gone over this material and then some.

Still, it's nice to have something new from Mordden, and this whirlwind tour of 150+ years of musicals in under 350 pages has its moments.  As always, he knows his stuff, even if he's often quite subjective, occasionally putting down big names and fighting for forgotten classics.

As anyone who's read him already knows, he separates this history into four different eras.  There's the First Age, where prototypical musicals--operetta, burlesque, minstrel shows, etc.--were developed in the 19th century; the Second Age, where names like Cohan, Ziegfeld, Kern and Berlin created a form that would become so much more; the Third Age, about fifty years in the middle of the 20th century when the musical becomes a unique work of art as well as central to American entertainment; and finally the Fourth Age, after pop music has left Broadway behind, and the musical has become sometimes more intellectualized, sometimes more sung-through spectacle.  The divisions are reasonable, I suppose, though the problem is the Thrd Age has by far the most interesting songs and shows.

Overall, like much of Mordden's work, it's idiosyncratic enough that I'm not sure this would be a first-tier choice if you want a good overview of the subject.  And while he still has some good tales to tell, if you've read his earlier stuff, this seems too concentrated, with titles whizzing by in a page,or sometimes a sentence, that were given a more luxurious treatment when he had the time.  Still, if you like the subject, it's an enthusiastic work, better than a lot of the stuff out there.

Singer In The Hands Of An Angry Mood

Happy birthday, Jonathan Edwards, singer-songwriter from the 70s.  He had only one hit, but he's still working to this day.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Wait Till The Lollipop Guild Hears About This

I saw MGM's Greatest Musicals: The Arthur Freed Unit by Hugh Fordin in the local library and checked it out.  It was published in 1975 (though the paperback version I read was put out in 1996 by Da Capo Press) but I hadn't seen it before.  It's quite enjoyable, with plenty of illustrations and intriguing background tales of how Freed and his people made some of the greatest movie musicals ever.

In the first chapter dealing with how the Unit started, concentrating on The Wizard Of Oz, we get this regarding the Munchkins:

These 350 midgets--where did they come from? [....] they were the most deformed, unpleasant bunch of "adults" imaginable. [....] they were constantly underfoot.  This unholy assemblage of pimps, hookers and gamblers infested the Metro lot and all of the community.

Somehow, I don't think you'd see this sort of description today.  In fact, I'm surprised Fordin got away with it in the 70s.


Happy birthday, Harvey Fuqua.  He was the founder of and singers in the great doo-wop group the Moonglows and also one of the early executives at Motown.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

It's Not The Translator Who's The Traitor

In The New Yorker, Adam Gopnik looks at the issue of translation. Many claim it's impossible to properly translate the sense of one language into another.  They go further--with the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis--claiming that your language helps determine your worldview.

Gopnik (and John McWhorter, in his recent book The Language Hoax, which Gopnik discusses), will have none of it.  Yes, meanings can be subtle, but there's no insuperable gulf that prevents us from understanding others.  I tend to agree. But that's not why I'm writing this post.

Gopnik gets to Orwell, who so famously wrote about how those in power use language to fool the public and hide what they're doing.  That's when we get this from Gopnik:

...euphemism is a moral problem, not a cognitive one. When Dick Cheney calls torture “enhanced interrogation,” it doesn’t make us understand torture in a different way; it’s just a means for those who know they’re doing something wrong to find a phrase that doesn’t immediately acknowledge the wrongdoing. [....] Whatever name Cheney’s men gave torture, they knew what it was.

This isn't a linguistics argument so much as a political slam. It's certainly not a political argument, since Gopnik apparently believes his statement is so obviously true (or so unlikely to be debated by New Yorker readers) that he doesn't have to present any evidence.

What is or isn't torture--legally or morally--is a tricky enough issue.  But Gopnik's arrogance goes much further.  He apparently has direct access to minds of Dick Cheney and his men.

Here's some advice for Gopnik. If you're going to use politics for some intellectual example, try something that either praises George W. Bush or attacks Barack Obama.  Going against your instincts will prevent you from fooling yourself.

Standard Error

I was watching Masters Of Sex (which I've complained about before) with the CC on.  It said the song "Let's Fall In Love" was playing.  But I also had the sound on so knew that was wrong.

What we heard was Billie Holiday singing Cole Porter's "Let's Do It," sometimes called "Let's Do It (Let's Fall In Love)."

"Let's Fall In Love," by Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler, is a completely different song.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Lucky Lucy

Lucy, starring Scarlett Johansson and Morgan Freeman, directed by Luc Besson, opens today.  Don't know much about it, but the poster says "The average person uses 10% of their brain capacity.  Imagine what she could do with 100%." (One thing she could do is remember the plot of Limitless from 2011, which had the same premise.)

I've always been intrigued by this weird urban legend that we only use 10% of our brains. Though it makes no sense, I've been hearing it pretty much all my life.  I've even met a number of people who believe it.  And it keeps popping up in popular culture (where at least it can lead to a fun, if absurd, plot).

Considering there are pretty easy sources available (in addition to common sense) that refute this claim, I can only conclude that people are using less than 10% of the capacity of their computers.

Something Happening With Blane

It's the centennial of Ralph Blane, great American songwriter.

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