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.