Wednesday, December 31, 2008

We Didn't Start the Fire ...

So that's it? The year's over? Well, there wasn't much to 2008, was there. I mean, what actually happened?

OK, so there was an election of sorts. And, OK, it was kind of historic, since the black guy won. But, come on, that happens all the time ... in the movies, which is all about the real thing, right?

And, sure, the economy hit some pitfalls. They could even be called "catastrophes". But it's not like we haven't faced such crises before, and we came out of things just fine - after a decade or so, and only after a major global war started. But that's no reason to feel glum. It's not like we're soft or bloated or spoiled or anything, no?

And yeah, America was wracked with that peskiest of circumstances known as corruption. Governors got caught with their pants down, or with their pants really down, or with their fancy skirts on. And what about that nasty ol' investor who was caught bilking, well, just about everyone in his sights? Now that was something to remember, eh?

And we lost a few people who were near and dear to us - but just a few. Cool Hand Luke and Ben-Hur, the Joker and Deep Throat, the Catwoman and the Black Moses, the wiseacre hippie and the head of the Firing Line. Gee, that seems like a lot all of a sudden.

Well, things were quiet in the sports world - if you don't count the Super Bowl, the Final Four, the U.S. Open, Wimbledon, the NBA Finals, that racing chick and that fish disguised as a human at the Olympics. Other than that, meh.

So, yeah, 2008 was kind of slow. Here's hoping that something actually exciting happens in 2009. In the meantime, Happy New Year, y'all!

Friday, December 26, 2008

Summer in the midst of winter ...

There are times when one just wants to spin around three times and click their heels to be teleported out of the madness of this human existence. Sadly, one of those times tends to be the holidays, which seems to bring out the absolute worst in some people. Already we here in Los Angeles are reeling at the horrible story from our backyard, where some lunatic bigneck in a Santa suit crashed a Christmas party at the home of his former in-laws, where he proceeded to shoot the place up - starting with the 8-year-old who eagerly opened the door to him, only to get a bullet in the face for her trouble - and then burned the place down, killing at least nine before going to his brother's house to off himself. Then, today, I read the equally depressing tale of two young boys, cousins aged 10 and 7, who were beaten to death with a baseball bat in a Phoenix park on Tuesday. Not as bloody - yet - is the ongoing saga of Bernie Madoff, the New York investor who was the center of a Ponzi scheme that cost $50 billion and touched everybody from regular folk to Steven Spielberg and the International Olympic Committee and some pretty important charities. While some people and organizations are left flat broke by Madoff's greed, the suspect remains under house arrest - in a posh Manhattan penthouse. And let's not forget the Caylee Anthony story, which gets worse and worse the more we hear about it.

Sigh. Good thing we have stories like that of Summer Moll, a 4-year-old girl in the Tampa Bay area whose very name makes me smile. Her tale begins badly - on Sept. 10 she was involved in a head-on collision on a local expressway that killed her mom and left Summer very badly injured, with a fractured skull, broken arms and legs, and myriad other injuries. (The other driver, by the way, tested three times over the legal alcohol limit and is now in jail awaiting jail on vehicular homicide and DUI charges. Nice.) For a while, Summer was touch-and-go. Pins were inserted in her legs, and a metal plate had to be placed on her skull. Even as she recovered, her grandparents were hit with the devastating medical bills, and a bit of a custody battle emerged between them and Summer's father, who had been out of the picture for some time but now showed up.

But all of that misery and heartache and pain faded for a moment yesterday, because yesterday was Christmas, and Christmas is built for little girls like Summer - especially for little girls like Summer, who need that spirit a bit more than the rest of us. So Summer, who's still in a wheelchair while her tiny legs mend and still has the nasty scar on her head, had the best Christmas possible, with presents galore, including the Maltese puppy that she really wanted, donated by a secret Santa.

All that bounty, of course, doesn't bring Summer's mother back or mend her injuries any quicker. But the smile on her face as she soaked in the love around her must do her some good. It definitely does those who know her, and know of her, a lot of good. Merry Christmas, every one.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

It's a Wonderful Life: The Missing Ending

Ever frustrated by the fact that, despite the unbridled good feelings at the end of It's a Wonderful Life, The despicable Mr. Potter seems to get away with his dire deed of making off with George Bailey's $8,000? Wonder no more! Now, presented for your holiday good tidings, is the hidden ending! (As originally interpreted by Saturday Night Live back in the day and now redone - copyrights be damned! - by the Starry Night Theater.)

Remember, boys and girls - every time an evil tycoon is beaten to death, an angel gets his wings!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Rob Parker of the Detroit News is a big fat idiot ... blunt enough?

With one week to go in the National Football League's regular season, several questions remain unanswered, but at least one fact is pretty much assured - this year's edition of the Detroit Lions is by far the worst team of the decade. The Lions, who have had several dismal seasons recently, have never reached depth like this. As of yesterday's 42-7 drubbing at the hands of the New Orleans Saints (and the score wasn't that close), the Lions are 0-15, a first in the NFL's nearly 90-year history. If they lose their season finale next week against division rival Green Bay, Detroit will complete the first winless campaign since 1976, when Tampa Bay went 0-14. (Of course, the Bucs had the "excuse" of being a first-year expansion team at the time. This is the Lions' 80th season. So much for experience.) All parts of the organization have collapsed, and it doesn't help that the city surrounding the team is crumbling thanks in part to the near-death experience of the auto industry. In fact, there were reports that scalpers outside of Detroit's Ford Field were trying to sell tickets to the Lions-Saints game at a fraction of the face value - as low as $10 - and still were having trouble passing them along.

And through all of this misery, much of it self-inflicted by the inept coaching and management sides of the Lions, they may not be the biggest idiots in Motor City. Nor, for that matter, are the arrogant car executives who didn't think twice about taking private jets to Washington to ask for billions in bailout money. No, the top S.O.B. in Detroit is probably Rob Parker, a beat reporter for one of the struggling newspapers, the News. It seems that Parker has made a season-long issue out of the Lions' coach, Rod Marinelli, hiring his son-in-law, Joe Barry, as his defensive coordinator last year. Granted, Barry's tenure has not been successful - Detroit's defense ranks 30th out of 32 NFL teams - but Parker's criticism has crossed the line when it comes to getting personal about the familial connections involved here. And at the post-game press conference yesterday, Parker obliterated that line. After several inquiries toward Marinelli about why Barry was still employed, the intrepid reporter threw this final question out for good measure:

On a light note, do you wish your daughter would have married a better defensive coordinator?


To the credit of Marinelli, who looks like the kind of guy you don't want to annoy in a bar, he simply ignored Parker's crass question rather than the natural reaction of most, which would be to rip off the reporter's scalp and piss on his brain.

Now, let's be clear - Rod Marinelli, his son-in-law and maybe just about everyone on the Lions' coaching staff will be sacked within two week of the Lions' final game on Sunday. Because, basically, they don't seem to know how to coach football in the proper fashion. And it's Parker's job, as it is the job of any beat reporter worth his or her salt, to hold the team they cover to the fire if the players or coaches or ownership deserve it. Bu there was absolutely no reason for Parker to go there with Marinelli other than to show off how clever he could be. Well, Parker is now way more famous nationwide than he was 24 hours ago - that much is certain. But not for being a clever or tough journalist, but rather for being, to paraphrase a line from the beloved series Gilmore girls, a buttface miscreant, not to mention an embarrassment to his profession. And it also doesn't help Parker's case that he was caught making false statements about a Michigan State football player during a TV broadcast not too long ago, for which the News should have fired him right then and there. Or before that, when he called Henry Aaron a coward for not speaking out about Barry Bonds' quest to break his all-time home-run record. Overall, Parker has much in common with the Lions and the auto industry. Congratulations, Rob.

P.S. Oh, Parker now says, in a column that seems designed more to save his own bacon than as an actual mea culpa, that he was just "joking" with that final question to Marinelli. ("Marinelli ... just ignored my attempt at humor and moved on.") Ha ha, Rob. Don't quit your day job. No, actually, do.

Here is a video of the Q-&-A, along with the repsonses of Fox Sports' NFL commentators.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Plucked ...

Last week's announcement that NBC was giving Jay Leno a five-nights-a-week primetime talk show starting in the fall of 2009 marked the end of an era - the era, frankly, of NBC. With one bold step, the Peacock Network basically ceased to be a network - that is, a full-service free broadcast service. After several years of disease that came in the form of such fare as Knight Rider, American Gladiators and about a dozen attempts to replicate the cultural earthquake that was Friends, the patient finally succumbed to indifference, incompetence and malaise. The outlet that brought us Johnny Carson, Jerry Seinfeld and Peter Falk has now been reduced to a version of the CW, albeit with a bit more gloss and a few less black people.

And all of this is not to unilaterally say that the Leno move will be an abject failure. Indeed, in some ways it's brilliant. It takes care of five hours of programming with a stroke of pen by inserting a known commodity into a low-cost situation, an important factor at a time of struggling economy. It take heavy burden off the shoulders of NBC programming chief Ben Silverman, who so far has shown extraordinary incompetence when it comes to putting together a schedule that the masses want to give a crap about. In theory, it allows Silverman and whomever is left working under him extra resources with which to develop new, interesting and/or innovative shows that could generate a pulse with the critics and audiences alike. And, maybe most importantly, it keeps Leno, who was to be a free agent when Conan O'Brien took over as host of the Tonight show next May, in the warm bosom of the NBC family, rather than seeing him go to ABC or Fox or syndication as a potential dangerous adversary to the red-haired boy from Boston.

So all should be well, right? Yeah, if it works - and, crucially, if it works in the long term. But NBC should be wary of the cautionary tale of ABC and Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. That network rode Regis Philbin's white-hot hit to the top of the ratings, at one point airing the game show four nights a week. But when oversaturation led to the inevitable ratings collapse, ABC was left literally with its pants down as Millionaire fizzled out. Now, Leno's new gig will undoubtedly be a success at first, and maybe for a while. But what happens if the act gets old, or if the ratings aren't there? (After all, the bar for viewership is much higher in primetime than at the midnight hour.) Would NBC have the non-Law & Order goods to plug in the holes?

And whither this idea that a primetime Leno strip would free up money for the development of higher-quality scripted programs? Who is to say that NBC just doesn't use the new profits for other matters? And isn't NBC saying to producers that their operation is not open for business if it it willing to dedicate five hours of prime real estate to jokes and celebrity banter? If I were Aaron Sorkin or J.J. Abrams or Jerry Bruckheimer, I would be taking my toys elsewhere. And what about Conan O'Brien? On the cusp of one of the biggest jewels for a comedian, he's suddenly second-fiddle again, overshadowed by the Jay Leno machine. Trouper that he is, O'Brien is putting a smiling face on the situation - because, what choice does he have?

The thing about the Leno move is that it's not even original. Way back when, when the Leno-Dave Letterman feud over who got the Tonight show was raging, Warren Littlefield (whose expertise as a programmer becomes more and more appreciated as we go deeper in the Silverman regime) and his NBC cohorts actively thought about offering Letterman a primetime weeknight show as a way of appeasing their disgruntled comedy star. So maybe between bong hits, Silverman was leafing through Bill Carter's tome of that saga, The Late Shift, and noticed that little nugget o'information and had an epiphany. It's exciting to know that our TV programming executives actually read.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Sadly, none of the subjects looked like Rebecca Romijn ...

From CNN:

PARIS, France (CNN) -- Four armed robbers -- two of them men disguised as women -- walked into a luxury jewelry store in Paris and swiped an estimated €80 million (U.S. $101 million) in jewels, the Paris prosecutor's office said.

Is it just me, or is anybody else suddenly seeing a new movie vehicle for Hugh Grant?

Finally, validation ...

The BBC is reporting that that a new study - using, for some reason, Vietnam War vets - indicates that smarter men produce better sperm. Glad to see that my big brain has some payoff other than winning trivia contests. :)

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Now that's a spicy meatball!

It seems like it was just a gag, but soap opera star Alison Sweeney, who is heavily with child was acting like she was going to labor during her appearance on The Ellen DeGeneres Show this afternoon. Ellen's reaction and the fact that there's nothing on the wires about Alison birthing her second child indicates that Baby Sweeney is still cooking (she's not due until January), but if it's really happy news, it would sure beat the time that Orson Welles dropped dead two hours after taping an episode of The Merv Griffin Show in 1985, or when Della Reese suffered a brain aneurysm and nearly died in front of Johnny Carson while appearing on the Tonight show in 1979. Yeah, a bouncing baby beats sudden death all the time.

Well, That Was Fast ...

The first major film awards of the year were announced just now. Let's see what the National Board of Review says were the best movies and performances of the previous 12 months ... or, rather 11 months and 4 days.

National Board of Review:
Film: Slumdog Millionaire
Actor: Clint Eastwood, Gran Torino
Actress: Anne Hathaway, Rachel Getting Married
Supporting Actor: Josh Brolin, Milk
Supporting Actress: Penelope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Director: David Fincher, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Adapted Screenplay: (tie) Simon Beaufoy, Slumdog Millionaire; Eric Roth, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Original Screenplay: Nick Schenk, Gran Torino
Foreign Film: Mongol (Russia)
Animated Film: Wall-E
Documentary: Man on a Wire
Ensemble Cast: Doubt

MTV: Where are they now?

While reading about the layoffs going on at Viacom today, I noticed that MTV correspondent John Norris may be among the casualties. This was shocking to me not so much because such a high profile name was on the chopping block, but rather because I had totally forgotten that John Norris was still at MTV, the (former) music network having dropped off my non-essential cultural radar eons ago. No, I'm not a fan of The Hills or The Valley or whatever the heck is broadcast on MTV these days in lieu of, you know, music videos.

So this prompted me to look up what's going on with the original five MTV VJs, who for a few years flew to the heights of the sun before the reality of aging and demographics melted their wax wings and tumbled them to the cold ground that is Zeitgeist. You remember them, of course:

(From left) J.J. Jackson, Nina Blackwood, Mark Goodman, Martha Quinn and Alan Hunter, all trying to look intimidating.

Yeah, those hip, happening folk who were the cheery faces of MTV in its beginning, years. Where are they now, you ask? Well ...

Mark Goodman (1981-1987): Remains in music, and is now doing a radio show for Sirius Satellite Radio, at least until that entity goes bankrupt. He also has come full circle of sorts as a recurring host on one of MTV's many sister stations, VH1 Classic - at least it still shows videos on a regular basis. Age: Unknown - apparently he's been wise enough not to reveal the year of his birth.

Alan Hunter (1981-1988): Also working with Sirius, and is involved with a film festival in his home town of Birmingham, Alabama. He has done voiceover work for Verizon. Age: 51

Nina Blackwood (1981-1986): Notably posed for Playboy before joining MTV. After leaving the outlet, she held various TV and radio hosting jobs, working for MSNBC and the Discovery Channel, among others. Currently she is also a DJ on Sirius, as well as a rock station in San Diego. Age: 56

Martha Quinn (1981-1991): Probably the biggest breakout star among the original VJs, thanks to her perky, perpetually young looks. Martha went on to do some acting (most notably as Bobby Brady's wife on the unfortunate dramedy series The Bradys and in Clearasil commercials that she was still appearing in well into her 30s). Today she is also on Sirius in a weekly show she hosts from her Malibu house. Age: 49 and still (almost) looking like a teenage. See? It's annoying!

J.J. Jackson (1981-1986): The one of the original five not working for Sirius - probably because he died of a heart attack in 2004 at age 62. (Now you really feel old, eh?) Before he passed, Jackson remained in music as a radio DJ, including a stint at a smooth jazz station in Los Angeles.

Humbug ...

Is anyone else having trouble getting into the holiday spirit? Anyone? Anyone?

Yeah, I know what you mean.

I don't know what it is. Could be the economy being in the toilet, or the terrorism that has ramped up overseas, or the fact that the most legendary strip club in Hollywood burned down this morning, or the news that Paris Hilton wants to play Tinkerbell in the upcoming live-action version of her story, or that Pushing Daisies has been canceled.

Or maybe it's just me.

Anyway, I've been encouraged by someone near and dear that I have to start blogging on a regular basis again. So I will endeavor to do so. And I'll try not to bring the room down in the process.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Veterans Day ...

Thank you ... for everything. And that includes you, Dad.

Barack Obama, the first second fifth African-American President of the United States ...

A week after Barack Obama was elected President of the United States - yeah, it's still pretty damn cool to consider that a black man is about to move into the White House, and that he isn't going to be the butler. But let's not fool ourselves that Obama's victory is that much of a breakthrough. Indeed, this country's history contains more than one example of a person of Negro persuasion making it to the highest office in the land. You just have to know where to look - in your local video store, of course.

1972: Before he was Darth Vader or the voice of CNN, James Earl Jones held the job of commander-in-chief in The Man, a heavy melodrama based on the Irving Wallace political thriller and adapted for the screen by no less than Rod Serling. Jones played Douglass Dillman, the President pro tempe of the Senate who reached the Oval Office when the sitting Chief Executive and Speaker of the House were killed in a building collapse in West Germany (!) and the dying Vice President declined the promotion on the grounds that America didn't need to bury another grand poobah in six months. Needless to say, this being the early '70s, the idea of Jones in the White House doesn't sit well with, oh, just about everyone surrounding him, and before long President Dillman has to contend not only with white racist politicians (including a Southern-dipped Burgess Meredith), but also with African-Americans, including his own radical daughter, who want him to take more of a stand on their issues. Nevertheless, Dillman navigates the treacherous waters with skill and aplomb, and of course has the best president voice ever. This movie actually isn't available on DVD as of now, but Obama's real-life ascendance to the top spot may speed things up in terms of home availability for The Man.

1998: Morgan Freeman was the next man to break the White House color barrier in Deep Impact, which also began a mini-tradition of America having a black president just in time to deal with The End of the World - in this case, a comet (co-discovered by future Hobbit Elijah Wood) on its way for a mid-air collision with the Earth. As Tom Beck, Freeman doesn't have much to do but stay stoic and keep convincing his constituents that "we will prevail," even if he doesn't really believe it. But he looks so good behind the Oval Office desk, you think about drafting him for the next election.

2001: The action-thriller series 24 debuts, and with it a new hero in David Palmer (Dennis Haysbert), the African-American senator from Maryland who is running for the highest office in the land during the inaugural season, which takes place entirely on the day before the California primary. Palmer manages to survive not only an attempted assassination, but also the machinations of his Lady MacBeth-like wife, Sherry, and by the second season Palmer was indeed the president, though his days didn't get much easier. Indeed, each of the first three seasons was devoted to Palmer dealing with threats against his life, his country and/or his administration. But Palmer himself always came out on top, or at least alive - that is, until the opening moments of Season Five, when he is shot through the throat while writing his memoirs, proving that a lot of good deeds do not go unpunished. Still, Palmer's death was the opening salvo in what was probably the best 24 season to date, so there's that.

2007: In a move that would make the Kennedy kids beam with pride, Palmer's brother Wayne (D.B. Woodside) assumed the reigns of power for 24's sixth season. Unfortunately for Wayne, though, things didn't get much easier for the sitting President - especially when he was blown up and seriously injured by a bomb in an inside job meant to frame an alleged Muslim terrorist. What's worse than nearly being killed by a would-be assassin? Watching Vice-President Powers Boothe ham it up as your square-jawed replacement.

And, yeah, while all of these instances of a black president are fiction, there are some who indeed feel that Obama is not the first of his ethnicity to become the main man of the U.S. There were rumors about Warren G. Harding, the 29th President, concerning his heritage that circulated during his successful 1920 run for the White House. Reports that Harding had a little color in his background were rebuffed by his campaign manager, who maintained that the candidate was of "the finest pioneer blood," and they were quickly forgotten, though there was no DNA test at the time to prove things one way or another. (Another celebrity of the age who had to deal with such rumors? Babe Ruth.) And, of course, there are those who say, with tongue embedded in cheek, that one William Jefferson Clinton, with his soulful style and empathy for the regular guy, was the true first black president - though I would assume that Bill will defer that title to the soon-to-be occupant.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

All things are possible ...



America, in large part, is a nation of dates. This is in part thanks to our schooling in history class, and partly a trait that comes from the facts that dates are easier to remember. Unfortunately, as is the nature of things, many of those dates that mark the time of the history of this country tend to be of a traumatic nature, when bad things happened to us. April 14, 1865. December 7, 1941. November 22, 1963. September 11, 2001.

So you can forgive me and many of my compatriots in the coming days and weeks for indulging ourselves a bit. For now, to go along with dates like July 4, 1776 and July 20, 1969 - American days when something good and great and beautiful occurred - we now have a new entry.

November 4, 2008.

Whether you agreed with the final decision of the voters or not, you can tell your grandkids that you witnessed history. The type of history that didn't involved carnage or violence of sadness. We all have reason to be proud today. Let's remember this feeling and allow it to sustain us in the coming months and years - because we're going to need it. But for now, even if just for a bit, let us also celebrate what has been accomplished and what this means in the tapestry of our history.

And, of course, wait for the inevitable books about it.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Gay plague at ABC?

Like any other business, television is one filled with risks. It takes millions of dollars and a small army to put together a TV series, and that kind of investment automatically means, for better or (often) worse, that the networks who hosts these shows get a large say into what does or doesn't happen on said series. It's the rare show that gets by without a lot of network input (interference?), and it's safe to say that even in those cases, it's just that we don't hear about the notes that are passed along from executive suite to writers' room. But, as is often the case with many lines of work, we tend to hear about the messy stuff more than the clean. And this appears to be the case with one of the more popular series on TV today, the medical dramedy Grey's Anatomy, now in its fifth season on ABC.

A few seasons back, Brooke Smith, a respected New York-based actress known mostly for her work in the Big Apple theater scene and in some interesting film roles (Buffalo Bill's last victim in the Oscar-winning The Silence of the Lambs; a pregnant, gun-toting reality star in the satirical Series 7; Naomi Watts' jugdmental best friend in Woody Allen's Melinda & Melinda), did a guest-star arc on Grey's as Erica Hahn, a skilled but abrasive cardiac surgeon who was a rival to Isaiah Washington's Preston Burke. During the middle of last season, Smith became a regular as Hahn replaced Burke on the staff of Seattle Grace Hospital. What followed was an intriguing storyline when Erica started a relationship with orthopedic specialist Dr. Callie Torres (Sara Ramirez), marked in large part by a kiss shared between the two in May's finale. Prior to this, neither character had identified as gay or even bisexual, but the couple conitnued on as this fall's batch of new shows started. Tentatively, with humor and charm and poignancy and, yes, some missteps (including a few from the writers), Erica and Callie forged ahead, eventually going to bed together in a sequence that was marked by a great piece of acting from Smith in last week's episode, when Erica frightened Callie and maybe herself with the post-coital realization that, after all these years, she was indeed a lesbian. Many critics praised how Grey's writers, including creator Shonda Rhimes, were handling the plot, and much was made of the fact that this wasn't another "lesbian guest-star" situation, that this may have been the first time in network TV history that an ongoing lesbian romance consisted of two established regulars, neither of whom was going to just disappear one day.

Well, strike that, because today the news broke that Smith has been fired from the series, her last episode to air on Thursday. What's more, Erica in fact will just disappear, as the character has no departure story per se. As Smith told Entertainment Weekly in an exclusive online story, Erica just gets in her car and drives away, most likely never to be seen again.

But wait, it gets better. Despite a late-evening statement released by Rhimes in which she seems to take the bullet for Smith's abrupt pink slip (citing a lack of "magic and chemistry"), it seems that the decision was out of her hands - that ABC decreed that the Hahn character be removed from the Grey's equation. And, according to E! Online, a new bisexual character to be played by Melissa George (Alias) has been changed. George will still be on the show, but her character will no longer be bisexual.

TV is no stranger to characters who simply don't end up fitting into the mix of an established show, and if either Rhimes or ABC had felt that Smith's chemistry wasn't right on Grey's, that would have been seen as somewhat legitimate. But the subsequent alteration of another out character, George's, makes this developing quite troubling. Let us not forget that ABC was the network that was airing Ellen DeGeneres' eponymous series when both DeGeneres and her TV doppelgänger came out of the closet. ABC reaped the rating benefits of that whirlwind, but when Ellen's ratings declined and even gays though the show was "too gay," they bailed on the series the following year. Now, that was almost 10 years ago, but it may not be too hard for some to see a trend here. Of course, both ABC and Rhimes can say that Grey's still has the bisexual Callie in the cast, but how much will we see that side of her from now on? And one also has to consider what happened to another popular ABC series, Ugly Betty, where openly gay co-executive producer Marco Pennette was fired last season at around the time that Rebecca Romijn, who played a transsexual on the comedy series, was demoted to recurring status. Some interpreted that as an attempt by the network to "de-gay" the series. To be fair, it's important to note that gay characters remain on Ugly Betty, along with other ABC shows such as Desperate Housewives and Brothers and Sisters (though that series' openly gay executive producer departed under hinky conditions last season). But is there a trend here?

Meanwhile, there's Smith, who this summer told TV reporters, myself included, how excited she was about the opportunity of being on Grey's, and on doing some possibly groundbreaking television. The native New Yorker had moved her husband and two kids cross-country for the part, and the family had just purchased a house on the West Coast. Being an actor for most of her adult life, Smith no doubt is used to professional disappointment, and she's more than talented enough to bounce back from this setback. But it's a shame that what may be perceived, fairly or otherwise, as a bad case of network homophobia has such collateral damage.

Oh, and I can't what to see what GLAAD and other organizations have to say about this Tuesday morning. Or maybe Wednesday morning, since there are some bigger fish to fry tomorrow.

Vote or become cranky ...

As if you needed a reason to vote tomorrow ... here's a very good one for the caffeinated ones out there ... now you have no excuses! Do your duty!

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Studs ...

Studs Terkel didn't live to see the Chicago Cubs win the World Series. And he won't find out who will win the most important presidential election in a generation on Tuesday. (Then again, he'll probably know who will win before any of us will.) But if those are the only really depressing points about the Pulitzer Prize-winning author, historian and raconteur's passing yesterday - other than the selfish fact that everyone who knew him, or knew of him, will miss him tremendously - then this really isn't a time to mourn, but a time to celebrate the life well lived. And how. Beloved by an entire city and a world of readers, known as the virtual creator of the modern genre of oral history, married to the same woman for 60 years - you can't beat that with a stick. Roger Ebert, who's way better at this stuff than I am, wrote eloquently about his friend within hours of Terkel's death. Go read his essay, and then do yourself a favor and check out some of Terkel's work. He's the kind of writer and interviewer I hope to grow up to be someday.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Sign of the times?

In the fall of 1988, I was a newly minted college freshman, spending my first weeks living away from home at the small institution of higher living that I had chosen to further my education. Even though I was only 80 miles from my Kentucky home, I embraced the freedom of independence, an experience heightened by the fact that it was an election year. I was on a conservative-leaning campus in the middle of a conservative-leaning state, but I backed Michael Dukakis over George Bush, and took modest steps to express my choice - hanging out with similar-minded folk, putting a Dukakis sign on the door of my dorm room. And even though at that point in the fall the vice-president was starting to pull away from the Massachusetts governor in the polls, it was still a fun time for me as a young adult.

Except for the two times that my Dukakis sign was ripped off of my door. The second time, the sign was torn to pieces and strewn across the hallway. Democracy, indeed.

Of course, such acts of simple, callous vandalism have become a sad tradition of any heated political season, and the acts go both ways. But this year, as the Obama-McCain contest heads into its final hours, the incidents have become heightened in intensity and frequency. I have a friend who has had her Obama-Biden front yard sign swiped from her Indiana home twice. In Cincinnati, rock star and naturalized U.S. citizen Peter Frampton - who took the oath of loyalty to his adopted country right after the events of Sept. 11, 2001 - was so chagrined by the Obama signs that were disappearing from his lawn that he called the local paper to rant about it. And then there are the swastikas or worse being spray-painted on Obama signs and, more dire, the effigies of Obama and Sarah Palin that have been splashed across the TV and computer screens.

I won't analyze the root causes of such coarseness, partly because I try to avoid going too political on this blog and mostly because the the subject already has been analyzed to death by media figures with more time on their hands than I. But what I will say is that, in a country that so prizes its legacy of democracy and free speech, it's pretty pathetic when those who can't stand anyone who disagrees with their point of view resorts to baseless acts like these. The great thing about America is that there is a place for them as well - in rational, public discourse and debate; and, at least once a year, at the ballot box.

Of course, if the idea of criticism or disagreement is that distasteful to them, there are places they can retreat to. I hear Iran is beautiful this time of year.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Heal the World (Series) ...

The World Series is over, and the Chicago Cubs, er, Philadelphia Phillies reign supreme as the kings of baseball after what was definitely the most unusual Game 5 in Fall Classic history, one that took more than two full days to complete. And now the annual post-mortem about what's wrong with the World Series has begun, since the ratings are again in the toilet and people are complaining about another one-sided championship round, even though the Tampa Bays Rays gave as good as they got and only stunk in one of the five games. The last time there was a Game 6 of a World Series was in 2003 - that's a record time span. The last time there was a Game 7 was in 2002. And it's the Series that go six or seven games that are the ones that go down into the annals of lore and legend - and the ones that tend to have the bigger ratings and make the networks carrying them more money, thanks to that lovely additional ad revenue stream. There's not much, if anything, that can be done to compel a sixth or seventh game. That's the nature of human competition: shit happens, and it often happens at the wrong time. How else to explain the fact that the teams with the best records in their respective leagues, the Angels and the aforementioned Cubs, didn't make it out of the first round? If a team gets hot, it gets hot, and vice versa. But in terms of the popularity of the World Series, there are a couple of things that Major League Baseball should start considering for the future.

One of those things, by the way, is not the "neutral site" theory, the idea of playing the Series in a warm(er)-weather location to lessen the chances of major interruptions like the Philadelphia rainstorm that suspended Game 5 on Monday night and pushed the final three innings back two days. There are those who would convert the World Series into a Super Bowl situation, where the best four-of-seven contest would revolve between locations that have a nicer climate (L.A., San Diego, Miami) or no climate (domed stadia in Houston or Phoenix or even Toronto) rather than the way it's been for the past century - home-and-home. These Chicken Littles, to be blunt, are cracked in the head. Some of the biggest thrills in baseball playoff history come when the home team clinches the pennant or the Series on their home turf in front of the fans who have lived and died with them for the past six months. The moments are imprinted in our memories: Bill Mazerowski. Chris Chambliss. Tug McGraw. Joe Carter. To ask fans to travel hundreds of miles away from their homes and their jobs for more than a week - including some uncertainty regarding Games 5, 6 and 7 - is not only cruel, it's impractical in this day and age. And news flash - the World Series has always been played in October, when things tend to get a little nasty and chilly. The same as in April, when the season has always started. The neutral site theory is a knee-jerk response to a situation that rarely happens, a weather interruption during the final series of the baseball year.

If those guys are so worried about the cold and the wet getting in the way of a baseball game, they would be better served considering ways to shorten the entire season. I think one thing everyone can agree on is that the schedule, as enjoyable and thrilling as it may be, is too long. Next year, thanks to the World Baseball Classic delaying spring training, the seventh game of the World Series in Wrigley Field (what?) is set for Nov. 5. The last and only time the Series ended in November came only because of, oh, the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil. Understandable. But that doesn't mean it should be a regular occurrence. But this is what happens when The Powers That Be in baseball keeping adding games in the quest to line their pockets. Another round of playoffs - check. Extend the League Championship Series - check. Get rid of doubleheaders - check. As usual, in the process the big bosses have bitten themselves in their hindparts. Since they would never consider eliminating a round of playoff games, or cutting the regular season from, say, 162 to 154 games, they really must consider reviving the weekend doubleheaders. Making Saturday doubleheaders the standard rather than the exception would easily shave a few weeks from the schedule so that the season could end in mid-September, leaving plenty of time for the playoffs to proceed in potentially better conditions. And if the owners are worried about the gate, make the doubleheaders of the day-night variety, or pay for each game individually. Everyone makes their money, so everyone's happy, right?

As for the Series itself, its real problem is that the games are often inaccessible to the sport's most important fans - the newest ones. There hasn't been a daytime Series games in 25 years - and, what's more, the nighttime contests seem to be starting later and later on the clock. With the pregame shows and the pomp-and-circumstances, they usually don't start until after 8:30 p.m. on the East coast, meaning that it's rare for them to wrap up before midnight. If your son or daughter has to go to bed in the fourth inning because of school, how do you expect them to realize why baseball is so fun and cool. No wonder more kids are gravitating to football and basketball and soccer and even lacrosse. One of the great things about last night's Game 5 conclusion was that the Phillies wrapped things up by 10 p.m. ET - meaning that, for the first time in a long while, many kids were awake for the celebration. Wow - what a concept.

The leadership of MLB really has to seriously considering a change in how the Series games are scheduled. The preferred M.O. would be to schedule at least one or two games for 4 p.m. ET starts, preferably on the weekend. Not only would it allow fans of all ages to watch a couple of games in full, it also could improve the weather situation since it wouldn't be as cold when the sun is shining. (And for those who say that weekend Series games would compete with college and pro football, so what? Lots of sports are on at the same time as the NFL or NCAA, including NASCAR, and I don't see them withering on the vine.) At the very least, though, the night games should be moved up to 7 or 7:30 starts. That extra 60 or 90 minutes could make a load of difference. And the local affiliates, who may bitch about the loss of that important hour of local airtime, can live for a few days with the situation.

Bud Selig is not my favorite baseball commissioner of all time, far from it. But, in the final years of his leadership, if he would have the courage to push these modest reforms in an effort to revitalize the crown jewel of his sport, that would be a legacy that would convince even me to reconsider his place in baseball's history. I'd probably still hate him, but not so much.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008


As if your life depended on it. 'Cause it might.

But don't listen to me. Listen to them. After all, they're celebrities. Well, most of them are.

Unnecessary roughness ...

Football is a violent sport where a lot of bad crap can happen to you. Just ask Joe Theismann, whose legendary career was prematurely ended on national television when Lawrence Taylor sacked him and shattered his leg so badly that Taylor, as fearsome a player as there ever was in the NFL, was the first player on the field to wave widely for medical assistance. Or ask Darryl Stingley - or, rather, the relatives of Darryl Stingley, the New England Patriots wide receiver who was paralyzed by Jack Tatum, the Oakland Raiders defensive back (and avowed headhunter - his autobiography is called They Called Me Assassin), during an exhibition game in 1978. Stingley was left a quadriplegic by the vicious hit and would, nearly 30 years later, of complications from his injury. But both Theismann and Stingley suffered their injuries on the field of play at the hands (if you want to put it that way) of other players, and both men knew the risks of that happening. But I doubt if Patrick Edwards, a talented freshman wide receiver for the University of Houston, thought that his season, and perhaps his career, would be ended by a piece of non-football related equipment during a game.

Edwards and his Cougars were on the road against Marshall University last night when he was set on a pattern into the Marshall end zone. At full speed, he ran through the end zone and, before he could stop, collided with a band equipment cart that was parked there. The impact snapped his right leg virtually in two, a compound fracture that was captured by ESPN's cameras and may have made a few people lose their dinners (so you are duly warned):

It's not clear what, if any, recourse either Edwards or Houston can take regarding this, but you can bet your bottom dollar that this will be investigated by the NCAA or others, and that many teams will think twice before they place equipment like carts in harm's way. (If you ask me, Marshall should have to pay all of Edwards' medical bills, and perhaps the balance of his scholarship.) Meanwhile, I hope Edwards stays in college and gets his degree, just to be on the very safe side.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Remind me ... are these guys pro-American or anti-American?

Well, we knew it was coming, and we probably knew it would be this wacky. With one week until one of the most pivotal presidential elections in U.S. history, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (and boy, don't those things go together?) have broken up a plot to assassinate Barack Obama and many more African Americans in a crime spree that would have covered America. Allegedly two young outstanding skinheads planned to invade an all-black high school, kill 88 students - 14 by decapitation, the fine art of separating the head from the body - and then keep on killing until they reached the Democratic nominee, whom they wanted to shoot to death from their car to his. And, as it to channel Fred Astaire or some such, they wanted to wear white tuxedos and top hats as they attempted to snuff Obama out. (Why do I suspect that crystal meth is involved with this somehow?) Fortunately, the bozos - who apparently knew they would die as well as they targeted Obama - were busted in Tennessee before they could carry out their dastardly deeds, or accidentally shoot each other in the process because they were so hopped up on something at the time.

When is this election done again?

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

A bear walks into a Subway shop ...

This actually happened recently in British Columbia. It's a cute story - until the end, when you learn that the authorities found the young bear - and KILLED IT! Killed it? For wanting a meatball sub with extra cheese? That's not service with a smile!

Since we're on the subject ...

Helen Mirren is sixty-freaking-three. Has been, in fact, since July 26. So there's really no reason to bring it up, except as an excuse to post this photo of Dame Helen in a skimpy red bikini during a recent holiday. :)

Sigourney Weaver ...

... is fifty-freaking-nine years old today. And while this photo isn't not a recent one, it's a pretty close approximation of what Sigourney looks like today. That is, pretty freaking fantastic. Mazel tov.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Back for another cup of coffee?

As many of my friends and colleagues know, I have a pathological hatred of the remake, the "time-honored" method of taking the core elements of a previously made movie or TV show and reviving it as an newly produced entity. The reasons for this are simple enough - remakes, for the most part, blow. They do nothing to enhance the enjoyment of the original and quite often send audiences running toward the hills and away from the screen, much of the time throwing off profanities in the process. Yes, I am not naive enough to think that every remake every made has been a worthless pile of civet cat excrement (minus the aromatic coffee, of course). But for every 3:10 to Yuma, there are least a dozen All the King's Men. Maybe a thousand. It's hard to keep track in a Hollywood that increasingly reaches for the past instead of, oh, trying to create something new and different. So you will forgive me if I'm not in a tizzy over the forthcoming remake of the 1951 sci-fi classic The Day The Earth Stood Still, starring no less than Keanu Reeves in the pivotal role of the mysterious alien Klaatu. ("Klaatu barada nikto, dude!")

"That's fine, Dave," you may ask, "but what about sequels?" "Good question," I would respond. Sequels are in a different category, as they are usually a continuation of a story previous told. And many a sequel has improved on the original, or at least been up to the standards of the first, whatever those standards were. The Godfather, Part II, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, The Dark Knight - just three examples of a follow-up to an acclaimed movie achieving its own level of excellent. (The first two actually won Oscars for Best Picture, while the latter may be up for its own Academy Awards if the cards fall in place.) Still, there are many sequels that also, well, blow, meaning that there is still something of a dread that comes into my movie-loving heart whenever a "Part II" or such is announced.

This all comes up because of an article in the New York Post this morning which reported that Kevin Costner, Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins are in talks to reprise their roles in a sequel to the popular 1988 baseball romantic comedy Bull Durham. According to the Post, the film would have Sarandon and Robbins' characers, baseball groupie Annie Savoy and hotshot pitcher Nuke LaLoosh, now married, apparently wealthy and co-owning a big-league franchise that is managed by Costner's "Crash" Davis. Now, the sequel will reportedly be written and directed by Ron Shelton, who did the same for the first. And on the surface, the plotline sounds plausible, as many a minor-league catcher has gone on to manage in The Show in the real world. But a sequel? To one of the best baseball movies ever made? Twenty-plus years later.

Oh, well, I guess the proof will be in the celluloid. Besides, I was so fearful of the Sex and the City sequel until I finally saw it. Just don't have Tim Robbins wearing women's lingerie again.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

A hundred years ...

And so, here we Cubs fans are yet again. Another year ... another year. To run down the litany of world events that have taken place since the Cubs last won the World Series a century ago - and, as of last night, it is officially, finally, a century - would be trite and redundant, since many a media outlet has already done that. What happened last night is better expressed in the pain of the team's many fans, myself included, who are facing both the impossible and inevitable square in the eyes.

One of my dear friends suggested to me today that it maybe was time to move on, that the Cubs were destined to break my heart every time in one way or another, and like to a mercurial lover or a parasitic chum, maybe I should cut myself off, at least somewhat, and get on with my life. (Full disclosure: This friend is a Boston Red Sox fan, which makes her heartfelt advice somewhat suspect, considering that her own pain has been more than lessened by seeing her team win two of the past four World Series.) Even if I were to attempt to implement her advice, I'm not sure if I could. In fact, the Cubs actually take up less of my time than they did during my high school or college days. Today there are other priorities in my life - like paying the rent or wondering who will win the presidential election or what will happen Wilhemina's baby on Ugly Betty. Still, I can be forgiven if I'm down in the dumps for at least the next 24 hours about what could have been, and what will be for the next six months - until spring training stars, of course.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

The Lion in Winter ...

Yes, karma can indeed be a bitch sometimes, can't it?

Congratulations, O.J. You're so not going to Disneyworld! Another "magic kingdom" awaits you for at least the next 15 years!

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Anticipation ...

It's 8:30 a.m. on the first day of October (Happy Birthday, President Carter!) and I'm waiting to do an interview for an impending assignment at 9 so I can go back to bed for a few hours (didn't sleep well last night for no particular reason). But all that's on my mind is the fact that the Chicago Cubs' playoff run starts today when they host the Los Angeles Dodgers at Wrigley Field.

Everyone knows by now that the Cubs haven't won the Series since 1908, and that a lot of baseball pundits are projecting that this may be the year that all of the sundry Cubs curses are put out to pasture like any old goat. But all I can think of is the many reasons why it won't happen. This, even as I get annoyed when media attention focuses on The Goat and The Black Cat and The Bartman and the other times the Cubs, destined for Glory™, have managed to screw the pooch in the end. (The latest? Just last night on SportsCenter, when the always helpful Rick O'Reilly jotted down the ten ways the Cubs can blow it this year. Lovely.) Hearing many of those same analysts who love the North Siders' chances also say how the Dodgers were the worst-possible playoff matchup for the team isn't helping things. Anyone can be a favorite to win a game or a series or the whole ball of wax, but being a favorite is like a fistful of stocks - it can become just a hunk of paper in not time at all. So there's anxiety building inside Dave, the kind of anxiety that can lead to physical upset if one not careful. But at least I know that if I blow chunks today, it likely won't be because something's wrong with the new liver.

Cross your fingers, everyone. Toes, too, if you have them.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Fifty-four years ago today ...

As we suffer through yet another day of financial anxiety - and wait for the baseball playoffs to begin - here's a welcome flashback to those days of yesterday. Come, children, gather around the computer screen and watch the greatest catch in baseball history, courtesy of one Willie Howard Mays Jr. in the 1954 World Series.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

He Was Legend ...

"There is a point where feelings go beyond words. I have lost a real friend. My life — and this country — is better for his being in it." — Robert Redford

In a week dominated by the increasingly tense presidential election - and, oh yeah, the American financial system coming to the brink of collapse - the death of a movie star would seem to pale by comparison. But Paul Newman, who passed away yesterday of cancer at the age of 83, was not just a movie star. He wasn't even just the movie star of his generation, though he most certainly was. Newman was indeed a superlative actor, as evidenced by his three Academy Awards and numerous other honors and accolades. And no one - not even straight men - could discount his potency as a male sex symbol, perhaps because he was much more than a pair of piercing blue eyes. And he was much more than that. It is telling that his death is getting major play on ESPN because of his longtime passion for auto racing, including his partial ownership in an IndyCar team and his own prowess behind the wheel, much of that done after he turned 60. He was one of the leading philanthrapists in Hollywood, before it was the "trendy" thing for stars to do. Newman raised more than $250 million for charity through his Newman's Own line of food products and established the Hole in the Wall Camp for seriously ill kids. Indeed, one of his three Oscars was a Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award for his charitable endeavors. (One of his most treasured fan letters was from a man who complimented him - for his tomato sauce. "My girlfriend mentioned that you were a movie star," the foodie wrote. "If you act as well as you cook, your movies should be worth watching.") And Newman was a political activist before it was trendy for stars to do that sort of thing. He often said that one of his greatest personal achievements was ending up on Richard Nixon's enemies list. Throw in his 50-year marriage to Joanne Woodward, and Newman's was a life well lived.

Newman's resume - Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Exodus, The Hustler, Hud, Cool Hand Luke, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Sting, Slap Shot, Absence of Malice, The Verdict, Nobody's Fool, Road to Perdition, and on and on - wasn't half-bad, either. Go out and rent one or five of them this weekend.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

One down ...

... three to go.

Congratulations, Cubbies, Now get back to work. You guys aren't done yet.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Wha' happened?

And so we appear to be close to it. (You know what I'm talking about - or at least you should at this point. Actually, maybe not. After all, in the universe of the Chicago Cubs fan, there are so many "its", and not all of them are positive. But you're smart people, so you'll figure it out.) Just a few days ago, many a Cubs fan, yours truly included, was - well, panicking, to be fair. The team, after a season of near-dominance, seemed to be running out of gas at the worst possible time, with a plethora of losses piling up and the club's two best pitchers, Carlos Zambrano and Rich Harden, on the bench with arm issues. The only thing keeping Cubbie faithful from hurling themselves off of their collective balconies was the convenient fact that the team that was closest to Chicago's blood trail, the Milwaukee Brewers, was going through its own meltdown. Indeed, the Cubs had actually picked up a half-game on Milwaukee despite its troubles.

And now ...

Thanks to some not-always-welcome quirks of fate, the landscape has changed, to say the least. Because Hurricane Ike turned Houston into a waterlogged wasteland and left half the city either underwater or powerless (or both), the three-game series between the Cubs and the resurgent Astros was postponed. Then, over the (justifiable) protests of the Astro management, Major League Baseball shifted two of the games to a "neutral" location. Of course, this being Bud Selig's version of Major League Baseball that we're dealing with, said location was determined to be Milwaukee's Miller Park - also know, affectionally, as Wrigley North. So the bedraggled Astros, many of whom have bigger things on their mind than a pennant race - even their own - flew into Wisconsin on Sunday afternoon with hours to spare and, despite the team's red-hot streak, got no-hit by Zambrano, returning for his first start in almost two weeks. Oh, and the crowd? More than 25,000 people, about 99.95 percent of whom were rabid Cubs fans.

And today? Today the Astros managed to get one hit off of Cubs pitching before losing again 6-1, giving the North Siders a quick four-game winning streak. Meanwhile, the Brewers were getting the suds blown off their head by the Phillies, who swept them in four straight in Philadelphia over the weekend, in the process changing the complexion of the playoff chase. Now the Cubs are ahead of Milwaukee by eight games, the Brewers are tied with the Phillies for the NL wild card with Houston still just two-and-a-half games behind, and Brewers management made the Palin-esque move this afternoon of firing manager Ned Yost with just 12 games left to play, including three against the Cubs at the real Wrigley starting tomorrow.

Game over? Hardly. The Brewers are starting their ace pitcher, CC Sabathia, tomorrow night. He hasn't lost since being traded to Milwaukee in July. And Cubs fans know never to look at a gift goat, er, horse in the mouth. (Yogi Berra is a prophet. Think about that.) But let's just say that the panic has been lessened somewhat. Sure, it came in part from forces beyond our control, maybe even through circumstances we wish could have been different. But it's happened, and now it's up to our lovable "losers" to take advantage and shut the door. Now's the time on Sprockets when we dance.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Suddenly, Ocean's Fourteen Doesn't Seem Like Such a Bad Idea ...

Far be it for any of us, particularly a puny little media critic like me, to judge what an acclaimed Oscar-winning filmmaker can do with his street cred. But one does have to wonder if Steven Soderbergh knows what he's getting himself into. Variety is reporting that the director known for such wide-ranging projects as Sex, Lies and Videotape, Traffic, Erin Brockovich and the Ocean's Eleven flicks, is developing a biopic on no less than Liberace.

Yes, that Liberace.

Wait, it gets better (or worse). Soderbergh wants Michael Douglas to play the understated pianist, with Matt Damon in talks to portray one of Liberace's paramours, Scott Thorson - you know, the one who sued Lee (as he was known to his friends) for palimony.

Of course, Soderbergh has proven that he knows what he's doing when it comes to directing films, so maybe it's unfair to poo-poo his Liberace film as mere folly or pure camp. And after devoting himself to a five-hour epic on Che Guevera, one really can't begrudge him for pulling a 180 for one of his next motion pictures. But Liberace? Michael Douglas as Liberace? I'll believe it when I see it - and even then, I may choose not to believe it.

Remember ...

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

(No longer) in a world ...

With four months to go until the end of 2008, the entertainment world has been hit pretty hard in death pool terms. Heath Ledger, George Carlin, Bernie Mac, Isaac Hayes, Sydney Pollack ... those are just five top-notch performers who have left us - at times, quite suddenly. And now, Don LaFontaine.

Don LaFontaine? You may be wondering, "Who the crap is Don LaFontaine?" Well, son, I'll tell you who he was. Don LaFontaine is - or was - one of the most prolific voiceover artists in Hollywood. When you go to the cinema to catch a film and end up watching about a hundred trailers in the process, a good chunk of them will be narrated by Don LaFontaine. He was the voice behind more than 5,000 trailers during his career, from The Godfather, Part II to Borat, and in the process made the phrase "In a world ...," well, world famous. You know, as in "In a world where money was king ..." or "In a world where love had a price ..." or "In a world where big-ass lizards ate anything ...". (One wonders why he didn't copyright those three words a la Michael Buffer and "Let's get ready to rumble".) Other people do voiceovers on trailers, of course, but LaFontaine's was one of the very few that was instantly familiar to audiences - even if they never knew what his name was.

LaFontaine also gave voice to 350,000 commercials (!) and worked directly with many broadcast and cable networks, including the Big Four. It was a GEICO commercial, however, that gave LaFontaine his biggest full-on exposure, as people could finally put a face with the voice. ("This spot has changed my life," he wrote on his Web site. "There goes any anonymity I might have had.")

LaFontaine, who was 68, died yesterday in Los Angeles of complications of a collapsed lung, he apparently had been dealing with lung problems since last year. Nevertheless, it's likely are that he can be heard on trailers that have yet to be released; if so, let's hope the producers don't scrap his work. And let's hope that LaFontaine takes his rightful place among the other fallen performers in next year's Oscar memorial reel. In a world that he entertained for more than 40 years, it's only fair.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Three in a row? Oh crap ...

So the Cubs have lost three in a row ... at home. Not the best time to hit the skids, as the season enters the final month and the North Side Nine continue to fend off a ferocious effort by the Brewers to the north. Sure, the Cubs still lead the division by 4 1/2 games. And sure, Milwaukee did the favor of losing to the Mets today, so no ground was lost. Still, these are the type of stretches that has Cub fans like myself chewing our bottom lips a little more, having nightmares about 1969 and billy goats and marauding Bartmen chasing us through a swarm of black cats. So if I look a little ... panicked ... forgive me. I'm worrying. Sue me, I'm my mother's child.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Premature obituration ...

There's an old saying that everybody would love to know what people are going to say about them after they've headed to the open-air baseball diamond in the sky, but I do wonder if there's is any inherent charm to knowing how your obituary is going to go before it's officially valid. (Someone ask that of Michael Phelps, who at 23 already knows what this first line of his final article will be.) History tells us that the premature publishing of an obit, while uncommon, isn't unheard of. P.T Barnum's obit made the New York Evening Sun while the ailing promoter was still alive to read it, though that was no accident; it was upon Barnum's request just so he could know what it would say about his life. Mark Twain was the "victim" of an unduly early exit courtesy of the press when he was thought to be lost at sea in 1907. And in 2003 someone at spilled coffee on a computer or something, an act that inadvertently published the obit pages of several prominent people, including Ronald Reagan, Bob Hope, Nelson Mandela, Pope John Paul II and Dick Cheney (whom, of course, can never die, but that's another conversation for another time).

Now you can add Apple grand poobah Steve Jobs to this list. Yesterday the Bloomberg News Service, apparently while updating Jobs' 17-page obit, ended up publishing it for all the world to see. Granted, the article had holes in the crucial places - you know, like when and how Jobs supposedly reached "sad face" mode - which would have been an obvious clue that something was up here, and it wasn't Jobs' time among us. Still, the incident has caused Bloomberg a touch of embarrassment and may have raised the blood pressures of a few Apple investors, especially considering fears about the health of Jobs, who has dealt with pancreatic cancer and was looking somewhat thin and frail at his most recent public appearance - and who, by the way, has named no successor to his Apple throne.

Bloomberg soon after issued the appropriate retraction, so all seems right with the world again. But will the writers at Bloomberg now have to start from scratch with their remembrance of Jobs' life, now that everyone has seen more than a sneak preview?

Boy, I Didn't See That Coming ...

Newly anointed swimming god Michael Phelps has been slotted to host the season premiere of Saturday Night Live on Sept. 13. Phelps' actual acting ability, of course, is virtually unknown, but athletes actually have a decent track record when it comes to holding their own on SNL.(Michael Jordan and Peyton Manning, yay; LeBron James, not so much.) But as long as the writers keep his workload light - and prepare a sketch that involves Kristen Wiig in a wet swimsuit - things should work out just fine. So far there's no validity to the rumor that NBC is about to sign Phelps to play Ice-T's new partner on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Fair is foul, and foul is fair ...

Today Major League Baseball made it official, announcing that the umpires would be permitted to use instant replay to determine whether balls hit too close to the foul poles were home runs or just spectacular foul balls. The decision was a bold reversal after years of all sorts of factions within MLB fighting the encroachment of the replay technology onto big-league diamonds, and came after a string of several questionable calls earlier this season when the TV screens showed that the officials go their calls wrong. It will be a limited use of instant replay, as it should be; baseball has always been the most human of sports, a sport where the blown call is almost a tradition - albeit an extremely frustrating tradition, depending on whether your favorite team was screwed over or not. There's no need or desire for replay to be use to determine balls or strikes, or whether the runner beat the throw to second base or home plate. And yet, I'm not pleased about this move - or rather, the timing of the move.

Why? Because the change in the rules will not go into effect next April at the beginning of the 2009 campaign. It will go into effect on Thursday, amid the frenzy of some hot pennant races, some of which may have already been affected by iffy home run calls earlier this year, when going to the video tape was not an option. There's no retroactivity in play here - those past decisions still stand, even if the whole world now knows that they were plain wrong, and even if one of them may cost a team the playoffs. So what MLB has established here is what amounts to an uneven playing field within the body of a season - proving that even when baseball commissioner Bud Selig does something right (which hasn't been very often in my book), he still can find a way to muck it up.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

When coaches attack ...

So how did U.S. pole vaulter Jenn Stuczynki, who has only been competing in her sport for four years and was taking part in her first Olympic Games, do in Beijing last night? Listen to the message conveyed to her by her coach, Rick Suhr, and try and figure it out. Here's a hint: The answer is at the end of Suhr's speech.

Yeah, that's right ... Olympic rookie Stuczynki won the silver medal. Finished behind only Russia's Yelena Isinbayeva, who's only the best female pole vaulter of all time and who broke her own world record - again - last night just 'cause she could. It should have been the crowning achievement of Stuczynki's brief career, and a clear sign of what she might accomplish in the next few years. And she looked as happy as she should have been - until Coach Suhr offered his words of "encouragement", leaving his athlete looking as if her boyfriend had broken up with her and then run over her cat for good measure.

I get that different coaches have different motivational techniques, but I don't know how well it works to throw your athlete under the bus on national television (remember, Suhr knew he was mic'ed up) within minutes of her career peak, within minutes of besting everyone in the world save the titan of her freakig sport (who seems to be a piece of work herself). Having perused the blogosphere, I know what it can do - get you accused of being the lousiest and most uncouth coach in recent history - and that's saying something. Billy Martin would be taken aback by Suhr's grandstanding antics, including the tone of his voice and the body language he used in "communicating" with Stuczynki. To her credit, I have yet to see any articles in which she takes Suhr to task. Maybe that's just out of respect - the respect she should have earned from Suhr last night, if not before. Personally, I'm hoping for the moment when Stuczynski's camp announces that she is moving on to new management, as it were.

Good morning, Mr. Phelps ...

And how was your junket to Beijing again?

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Big day ...

Today is Madonna's 50th birthday, giving you a big indication on how old you really are.

Today is also the 31st anniversary of the death of Elvis Presley. Whether or not the two events are connected is entirely up to your own perspective.

... and Olympic justice ...

Since Ara Abrahamian was not a fan of his newly-won bronze medal for the Greco-Roman 84-kg competition, the IOC has relieved him of that burden by stripping him of that medal and disqualifying his ass from the Beijing Olympics. Go back home and enjoy your pickled herring, punk.

Friday, August 15, 2008

The Olympic spirit ...

The Olympics are about many things. They are about superstars such as Michael Phelps and Kobe Bryant, and dazzling sports such as gymnastics and diving. But they're also about athletes such as Ronda Rousey, who became the first American woman to medal in judo, taking home a bronze in honor of her mother, who was a world judo champion but couldn't compete in the Olympics because there was no women's judo in the Olympics at the time. And it's about Tuvshinbayar Naidan, a wrestler-turned-judoka who wept as he became the first Mongolian to earn a Olympic gold medal, setting off a massive celebration in his nation's capital.

All of which makes the actions of Ara Abrahamian all the more infuriating. The Greco-Roman wrestler from Sweden, feeling cheated after losing his semifinal to Italy's Andrea Minguzzi, won the third-place match, took his bronze medal - then walked off the podium, snatched his prize from around his neck, dropped in the middle of the wrestling mat and stormed out of the arena.

I don't know whether Abrahamian had a legitimate beef or not - God knows worse has happened at the Olympics. But his actions were unforgivable, an affront to all of the competitors who have won medals and the many more who are in Beijing knowing that they have no chance to land on the medal stand, but who give their all anyway. Rousey was seen as having a legitimate change at gold, but I don't see her bitching and moaning about having to "settle" for the bronze. Being the third-best athlete in the world in your sport is nothing to sneeze at.

The IOC is investigating his actions, but for me there can be only one resolution to this matter. Abrahamian (who says he is quitting his sport anyway) should be thrown out of the Olympic village and banned from his sport permanently. And give his bronze to someone who will actually appreciate it.

Thursday, August 14, 2008


Warner Bros. had pushed back the release of the new Harry Potter film from November 2008 to July 2009! How oh how will mankind survive the extra wait?

Love thyself - but only so much, apparently ...

Last fall Jennifer Love Hewitt was aghast at some of the hurtful things that were written about her, by fans and reporters alike, after paparazzi pics of the Ghost Whisperer star frolicking on the beach in a tiny bikini - and a more pounds than expected - hit the Internet. She struck back, decrying the emphasis on thinness and telling woman and girls everywhere to be proud of their curves; People magazine reported on the dust-up in a cover story called "Don't Call Me Fat". Yet today comes another magazine cover featuring Hewitt - this one for Us magazine that declares how she lost 18 pounds in just 10 weeks, complete with photos of her smaller physique, the curves she claimed to be proud of - and that many a guy has ogled for years - greatly diminished. What's more, she didn't drop the pounds, she says, because of the scrutiny over the beach candids.

Beyond my personal opinion that Hewitt didn't need to lose any weight - toning, maybe, but not anything radical. Indeed, to be blunt, I celebrated the fact that the bikini shots were easily the most revealing photos we had ever seen of her - I have to wonder what kind of message her dramatic weight loss sends to the young girls she claimed to be sticking up for last year. What are they to make of this mixed message from a star who wasn't overweight, an who said she was proud of her curvy body, but who felt compelled, despite what she says, to pare herself down less than a year later? Plus, now Hewitt seems too thin, having lost the oomph that made her one of the more enduring sex symbols of recent years.

Last year Hewitt wrote on her blog that being a size zero "doesn't make you beautiful". Now that she's much closer to that level, I have to agree with her. All I see when I look at her is ... hypocrisy.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Too soon, times two ...

It's been a bad weekend to be black and famous in America. Many of us were still reeling from the news yesterday of the pneumonia-related death of Bernie Mac when the word broke just a few minutes ago that Isaac Hayes has been found dead in his Memphis home. Hayes was 65 and reportedly was dealing with some health issues, his body was discovered by family members next to a treadmill.

Beyond the obvious pain that the family of members of Mac and Hayes obviously are dealing with, the loss of these two men leave a large hole in the culture. Both men were pioneers in their own right. Mac's profane but profound comedic style owed much to the work of such talents as Bill Cosby, George Carlin and Richard Pryor, but he also brought his own edge and perspective to his stand-up act, reflecting the challenges of men dealing with new ways of thinking and dealing with life and its ups and downs. He told it like it was, whether on the comedy stage or on his acclaimed sitcom, The Bernie Mac Show, which earned him Emmy nominations an won a Peabody Award. He also made a mark in the movies, including a lead role one of the better baseball films in recent years, Mr. 3000 (we'll forgive that he played a Milwaukee Brewer), and a supporting role in the Ocean's 11 franchise, where he more than held his own with the likes of George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon and Don Cheadle. Most of all, Mac, who was just 50, was a dedicated family man and a loyal friend.

Hayes was simply iconic. His musical talents helped turn the Stax Records label from just another record company to a major force in music and beyond moving the early 70s. He fused pop, funk and soul into a potent blend that paved the way for such musical genres as disco and hip-hop. He's best known, of course, for his soundtrack to the blaxploitation epic Shaft, including the title song that became a smash hit and won Hayes an Oscar, making him the first African-American to win a non-acting Academy Award. (Hayes, being his own man, famously wore a shirt made of nothing but chains during his Oscar ceremony performance.) But his previous album, 1969's Hot Buttered Soul, may be an even greater musical achievement, as Hayes' acclaimed spin on some favorite standards put him and his distinctive bald pate on the map. (After Soul, You'll never listen to Burt Bacharach the same way again.) Later on, Hayes found a new audience as the voice of the wise but eccentric Chef on the cartoon series South Park. But it's his music that will be his ultimate legacy.

Ironically, Mac and Hayes will co-star in the comedy film Soul Men later on this year. The movie stars Mac and Samuel L. Jackson as former signing partner who reluctantly reunite, with Hayes playing himself. Let's hope and pray that they won't have to dedicate Soul Men to anyone else between now and November.

A testament to the power of Issac Hayes: