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Entries in Television (42)

Wednesday
Aug152012

Ron Palillo

Actor Ron Palillo is dead at 63. Best known for his character Arnold Horshack on Welcome Back Kotter, Palillo carved a later voice acting career for himself in animated productions such as Darkwing Duck, and Rubik, the Amazing Cube. Horshack, as the lovable geek in Welcome Back Kotter’s high school Sweathog milieu, endeared audiences with his frantic raising of his hand coupled with “Ooh ooh ooh, Mr. Kotter!” as a catchphrase, and his trademark laugh evocative of a geese migration.

Palillo appeared on that old self-referential pop culture bargain-bin known as Celebrity Boxing on Fox, in a matchup against a much younger and larger Dustin Diamond, the man who played the high school dweeb Screech on 90’s high school sitcom Saved by the Bell. There can only be one dork. The fight ended midway through the second round, with Palillo being stopped by TKO.

The Sweathogs & Mr. Kotter

Beyond that blemish, Palillo, through his portrayal of Arnold Horshack, will be remembered for establishing the more outlandish of sitcom foils – paving the way for Diamond’s Screech, Willie Aames’ Buddy Lembeck, and Jaleel White’s Steve Urkel – the awkward, and often obnoxious characters that take a defining role in the development of a sitcom’s essence.

Wednesday
Jul042012

The Andy Griffith Museum

With the recent death of actor Andy Griffith, many have mourned the passing of an American era as well. Griffith, who found his way into the heart of our nation’s television audience as Sheriff Andy Taylor, was a symbol of simpler days, when things moved just a bit slower and our worries were confined to the local level. And when that local level was the whimsical Mayberry, life seemed to be a Rockwell painting. While perhaps this way of life will never be relived again in our frantic, wired modern existence, the patriarch of small screen stalwarts The Andy Griffith Show and Matlock ( as well as numerous film ventures) and his wholesome, neighborly message will endure forever.

In North Carolina, the same state where Aunt Bee always had a pie waiting and Barney Fife was always ready to take a proverbial pie to the face, The Andy Griffith Museum is a permanent homage to a man and the era he served. In Mount Airy, the experience is a forever changing blast from the past. Nostalgic fans, memorabilia enthusiasts and those who long for a time machine are entrenched in a wealth of remembrance and historic artifacts. The collection is a stunning array of props and wardrobe and trinkets, endowed from Griffith and other cast members of The Andy Griffith Show.

Mount Airy, Andy’s birthplace and childhood home, also hosts “Mayberry Days” an annual celebration of the man and his impact on American television and culture. It is also largely assumed to be the inspiration for the fictional community of Mayberry. Numerous locations and names mentioned in the show mirror real places and people in or near Mount Airy, such as Mount Pilot (neighbor Pilot Mountain) and Snappy Lunch, a still operating diner. In an installment of The Andy Griffith Show, Andy can be seen up close thumbing the "Airy News" an obvious play to Mount Airy’s newspaper. The Andy Griffith Museum and Mount Airy are, in effect, Mayberry; perhaps they do not have a Floyd the barber, but they likely have a relative of Floyd’s inspiration. They might not have a charmingly debaucherous Otis, but certainly his spirit fills the local taverns. They do have Barney’s on screen flame Thelma Lou, however. Actress Betty Lynn calls Mount Airy home, and is an avid guest at The Andy Griffith Museum.

Andy might have moved on to the great unknown, but he and Mayberry’s citizens are eternal within the confines of four walls. There will always be an engine that Gomer needs to repair. His cousin Goober will always be there to hand him a wrench. Aunt Bee will always be around for good southern cooking and advice, and Opie will always have an abundance of youthful optimism as he skips down the dirt road with his makeshift fishing rod.

And as always, Andy will be the man to oversee it all. The voice of reason, the good neighbor, the fair sheriff and the endearing single father, he is forever our American hero. All we have to do is whistle that familiar tune and visit The Andy Griffith Museum.

Thursday
Jun212012

Cheers 

In September we will have reached the 25th anniversary of the seminal television sitcom Cheers. It is the Silver Anniversary, and for Gen X types like myself, the silver celebration is starting to match the unwelcomed silver strands in our once lustrous hairlines. Cheers, of course, was a phenomenal piece of episodic art; that said, every sitcom that ever was celebrates some anniversary of sort with each passing year (season), so what was so special about Cheers to warrant such belated admiration?

I’ll start with originality.

In 1978, the documentary Scared Straight hit the airwaves. It was a precursor of the much maligned, equally ridiculed and praised sub genre of viewing culture that would come to be known as “reality”. Of course, the realism in this program was limited; the unspoken truth between viewer and participant was that no matter how harrowing the “reality” onscreen might have been, these kids were in no real danger from the barbs and threatening diatribe of the inmates. One false move and production would have folded like the proverbial cheap suit.

In 1992, a station that used to play music videos introduced a force known as The Real World. It was to be Candid Camera 24/7, as stereotypes of every race, gender and heritage were thrown together in a three million dollar loft in Manhattan (real?) and left to fend for themselves on camera. A girl happened to be from the south, so she was cast as the ignorant prototype of naivity. A guy happened to be African American and outspoken, so he was, of course, militant. Then there was Eric Nies, who was a model with six ridges in his stomach and was portrayed as a narcisist who played to the camera (though this might have been his own doing).

In 1983, wedged loosely in between these two programs, was Cheers. Now, Cheers was a scripted, live-in-front-of-a-studio-audience program, undoubtedly. It had its cliches and lazy writing and made-for-TV situations, but the argument can be made: Cheers was reality programming.

Before Sam Malone first introduced the couch residing lexicon to his misogynistic ways, Americans were fed a bunch of lies. Every family, according to the creators of Leave It To Beaver, were as wholesome as depicted. Imagine the horror felt by the 99% who were not! The biggest problem an American could have possibly faced was a dasterdly tarantula, a la The Brady Bunch. Johnny Bravo ruined the narrative for all of us normies, void of a sunshiney day!

Cheers was almost canceled, a potential thievery that can only spur contemplation of other groundbreaking shows that never saw the air (as such campy, hidden debauchery shows as The Love Boat were flourishing). But it stuck around because it had shades of truth. In television, shades of anything are as good as it gets. It had Sam Malone, the one time Boston Red Sox pitcher, a hero struck down by the very real issue of alcoholism (though his post baseball career choice was a head scratcher). Diane Chambers, the pseudo- intellectual who, though she and everyone else knew she belonged to a greater existence, was trapped in a lower middle class realm. Woody Boyd, the awestruck farmboy determined to make it in the big city, common sense and likelihood be damned. Carla, the fertile, eternal barmaid, a loser in love and life, yet too offended by her surroundings to wave a white flag. Frasier Crane, the cerbral excavator who drowned his sorrows with tonic and gin while presumably guiding others away from such self medication. Cliff Clavin, the blue collared know it all who knew not enough to stop pigeonholing himself as a caicature. Norm, the self deprecating, heavy set everyman, a C student in life but a saloon valedictorian (with a reserved seat and a catchphrase as brilliantly unoriginal as his name). There was even Paul. Who’s Paul? Exactly. You know him. He was in every episode. But he was just…there. There are ten Paul’s in every bar in America.

This is where the reality set in.

None of these characters were a newspaper columnist. No one was jumping sharks in water skis and a leather coat. Levity was key; it got as serious as beating Gary, a rival barkeep, in a prank war. Every conflict, victory or happening occurred within the four corners of the bar. And for a shockingly large segment of America, this is and always has been true. For every corner dive, with a sassy bartender and bacteria cesspool communal pretzel bowl, there is a story like Cheers. It might not be a mirror, but it exists. The hole in the wall where you ingest commercial beer like its oxygen, the owner, its Sam Malone, probably had another goal in life. He or she never dreamed their pub was “it”. Undoubtedly, there is a Diane Chambers working there, a bright bulb in a dim bunch that could, should, be doing something greater in life, but alas, there she is, her Contemporary Art degree withering away, her Masters in English useless to an audience seeking less Shakespeare and more shaken martinis. There is a Woody Boyd, born of another town, seeking the sleek city life that (ironically) TV promised him should he move away from Farmville. Cliff Clavin might wear a FedEx suit or a factory man’s boots, but he can tell you nine backstories to a three minute long Jouney song. Carla goes without saying, you recognize her strained face as she unceremoniously hands you a draft; your local Frasier wears a sport coat that doesn’t quite fit in with the décor, likely the driver of the car that doesn’t quite fit in with the parking lot. Norm is, well, Norm. He is the most easily transferred character on the show. Except perhaps Paul, who exists in every bar. Have you ever “known” someone at the watering hole for so long that…it would be embarrassing to admit you don’t know his name?

The saving grace of Cheers was that when they resorted to gimmick (Kevin McHale, Dick Cavett, Alex Trebek), it was still grounded in realism-you felt that these celeb types COULD have accidentally stumbled into the Boston bar. Famous people have to drink somewhere. And the antics? No Hollywood liberty, they exist in every drinkers lounge in the country. Who doesn’t know the bartender’s drama? Who doesn’t know who the owner is sleeping with? Who doesn’t know every painfully dull and anticlimatic detail of every “regular” on the stool? A bar is a family, at a price (money, liver). It has never been anything but, and when Cheers debuted a quarter of a century ago, we saw our reflection in our off-orange mug of suds. The cocktails have changed; the things we bitch about have changed. Through the genocide of brain cells the drinking public has blamed, since Cheers began, Reagan for their problems. Since then the blame has fallen on Reagan again, Bush Sr., Clinton twice, Bush Jr. twice, and now Obama. In that duration, rivalries have developed with competing bars. Romance, under the influence of closing time Chardonnay and bushels of Budweiser, have certainly blossomed between potential Sam Malone’s and aspiring Diane Chambers’ (maybe even a few Rebecca Howe’s, though being a purist I nary mention her name). Some random saloon has a Carla who hates that bar’s Cliff, and some form of Norm laughs at it while that venue’s Woody has no idea what is happening. And the many Paul’s are undoubtedly thinking or saying something, though no one cares.

Cheers was a place where “Everybody knows your name”, and across the lower 48 (and the other 2) there is a Cheers and everybody knows everybody’s name. I salute the 25th, because it was real, it was honest, and like these bar stools that help us forget, there was no glitz or glam-only barley, hops and malts. But Cheers, like the barflies before it, never dies. Like Atticus Finch it surpasses time, because time is only a set of numbers. Last Call is an imaginary, incomprehensible endgame, like Judgment Day and our own individual demise. It very well may come, but until it does…

Another round for the gang.

Monday
May072012

The Bob & Brown Talk Show Bonanza 

Public access television– the unsung component of the American media landscape– continues to breed talent. Since its inception in the early 1970’s pioneered by George Stoney, professor of film and cinema studies at New York University, public access has provided communities with an alternative to commercial mass media and ordinary citizens’ access to broadcasting opportunities. Such opportunities not only provided a venue to cultivate local community talent, but also served to launch the careers of celebrities like Elvira, Bobby Flay, and Tom Green. Public access shows have also served as the inspiration for commercial media comedy sketches and films that have now become woven into the fabric of American culture. The Saturday Night Live (SNL) skit, “Goth Talk,” a reoccurring sketch in the 1990’s starring Chris Kattan and Molly Shannon was based on a real public access show in Tampa, Florida. Most notably, the reoccurring, now famous, SNL sketch “Wayne’s World” which spawned two films and became a multi-million dollar franchise was based on the idea of public access television as the characters, Wayne and Garth, (Mike Meyers and Dana Carvey) broadcast their weekly public access show out of Wayne’s parent’s basement in Aurora, Illinois.

Creativity, at this grass roots level, continues to be explored and cultivated in these small telecommunications venues across the nation. The Bob & Brown Talk Show Bonanza is an excellent example of such innovative creativity. In the course of a three season run, The Bob & Brown Show has been brilliantly reinventing the norm of a traditional talk show from that very local, very humble, very American facility that is public access. The Bob & Brown show consists of Bob McCoy (Bob), and sidekick Andrew J. Brown (Brown) engaging in standard banter around a desk. Breaching from that traditional talk show premise, of predictable monologues, guests, and interviews, however, the audience sees that Bob and Brown are effectively characters of themselves, and the show is formed around an evolving narrative, as those interactions are further complicated with various segments, and the interactions with DJ TMAC (Tim McDaniel), musical director, and a very unique poet laureate in residence known as Dr. Malcolm Jamal Corner (Brian Brinker).

The Bob & Brown show initially spawned out of a 2009 summer T.V. production class McCoy, McDaniel, and Brown were enrolled in at Northern Kentucky University – an institution gaining regional and national notoriety in the arenas of theater and electronic media broadcasting. McCoy hosted a live talk show a few years prior, and from that experience, the seeds of the Bob & Brown idea were planted.

McCoy recalls how he and the others convinced the teacher to allow the idea they had developed to be the primary project for the course. Four episodes were shot during that summer term. Going beyond the constraints of a college class, the show moved out to the Telecommunications Board of Northern Kentucky, one of those numerous local, grassroots public access forums, and Bob & Brown grew to incorporate Brinker’s Dr. Corner character, which had initially materialized while Brinker hosted a college radio show centered on hip hop, poetry, and talk.

Explaining the format of the show, McCoy notes, “We got the good doctor involved, and devised the show to be part skits, part talk show, part comedy expose… and came up with micro storylines, and ongoing scenarios for our characters.”

Brinker describes his character as a composite; what he calls a mixture of “Kerouac and Lord Buckley.” Add scarf, beard, horn rimmed glasses, and a porkpie hat, and there is Dr. Corner.

“Having his character forced us to do something,” says Brown of Dr. Corner. Brinker agrees, “It made the show a little different.”

Dr. Malcolm Jamal Corner – an obvious riff on the name Malcolm Jamal Warner of Cosby Show fame, and accomplished slam poet in his own right – embodies more of the stuffy, pretentious, take one’s self too seriously archetype of the academic poet. Dr. Corner, a Johns Hopkins University doctorate, and “bestselling author” of a “sci-fi thriller” book ambiguously entitled: Teenage Girls, is in constant conflict with Brown, who calls out Corner’s airs. The “Poetry Corner” segment of the show features the good doctor reading self composed poetry under the isolated glow of a spotlight, while DJ TMAC accompanies mutedly in the background with the keyboard. Dr. Corner then thanks the audience with a deep, self important bow, holding his porkpie hat to his head, and pinning his affected scarf to his jacket. Accolades from Bob, and acrimony from Brown ensue. The deadpan comedic tension of the bit borders on sublime. Such is the nature of art that organically emerges from doing what one loves.

DJ TMAC, played by Tim McDaniel, is the musical accompaniment, playing uncannily out of tune, yet oddly harmonious jingles. His wardrobe garishly appears to have been culled from a Goodwill rack, and his DJ booth area is adorned with a photo of his “family,” that he found on “eHarmony Plus One” which, as the audience sees, is the sample photo insert from a Walmart picture frame. TMAC embodies a somewhat Paul Schaffer-esque role on the show – bantering back and forth with hosts Bob and Brown and the Doctor.

McDaniel explains how he initially got involved with the project. Taking a double major load of classes for both theater and electronic media and broadcasting, he had to take a class in piano, which, he admits, was not really his forte, earning him a grade of a ‘C’. “I took this piano class, and Bob approached me to do the show, thinking I could play piano,” he says with a laugh. His piano playing abilities, however, meld seamlessly with the context of the show. Cacophonous jams introducing segments and breaks. A creative, almost deconstructive reexamination of what makes a late night talk show tick.

Being on public access, Bob and Brown avoids the “cheap” and “shocking” cop-outs seen on reality T.V.; a blandly predictable pabulum arguably blighting the landscape of modern, mainstream T.V. The recurrent threads afforded by natural interactions of Bob, Brown, The Dr., and TMAC; the annoyance had by the repeated “hacking” into the show by masked versions of Brown, McCoy, and McDaniel, known as the “Germans” or “Bruder von Musikzorn” (whose lo-fi “pirating” of the show is a subtle nod to the gritty, real, and sometimes unpolished nature of public access); the absurd physical challenges Brown endures as part of the segment “What Can Andrew Do,” are all byproducts of public access’ liberating nature.

The standalone nature of the work has been compiled on Youtube, while all of the principals are currently pursuing other film, video, and production opportunities. McDaniel has been involved with Extra Life, a local production company, has been working on the feature film Revelation Trail, and is relocating to Los Angeles this June. McCoy has been filming for the Cincinnati Reds, and is forming a production company with a local rapper. Brown has had gigs ranging from Food Network to Spike TV, has been involved with a production company called Piñata Productions, and is working on a feature length film entitled Home. Brinker currently works for radio conglomerate Clear Channel. This burgeoning cohort of talent has, in many ways, utilized Bob & Brown as a training ground – an unmitigated chance to try out new things.

When asked if there will be more Bob and Brown episodes, Brown replied: “If somehow, we were to actually get paid for it, I would feel like I won the lottery.” Brinker and McDaniel nodded in agreement. That’s the litmus of great art: Hope at the possibility of getting paid for a creative endeavor – some comparable living wage, not necessarily a huge salary. The Bob and Brown project embodies pure creativity, and a labor of love – and the resulting product is a well constructed show, with an undeniable comedic edge – and none of it would be possible without public access.

The Bob & Brown Talk Show Bonanza You Tube Channel
Wednesday
Feb292012

Davy Jones 

Chalk it up to good timing. What hasn’t been penned in regards to the legendary crooner and charismatic enigma that is Davy Jones? Although most heralded as the dashing front man for The Monkees , the iconic pop rock quartet that shattered global sales records and notched an Emmy for the television series that bore their name, the eternally youthful and engaging Jones is a trivia buffs dream. Perhaps I might focus on the noted equestrian’s unlikely role as a cowboy from Manchester. Possibly, I sink my teeth into the entertainer’s roots as a child star on the BBC. Even better, I might divert my efforts to the celebrated and Tony nominated theatrical performances that have spanned the course of his 50 plus years in show business. Author, humorist, composer…endless possibilities. Then it dawned on me; the single greatest teen idol that ever was possesses more than a polished bio and endearing allure. He holds something no contemporary has ever managed to amass-staying power.

Davy recently opened up for an AmericanProject.TV exclusive, and we as a staff swear up and down that suddenly our own “cool factor” has gone up, hip by association. We are probably lying to ourselves, but there are truths in this life that cannot be held back; death, taxes, and Davy Jones. Of the three, one is endeared, and none show signs of stopping.

Davy you’ve been working in the entertainment business most of your life starting with a role on Coronation Street, the longest running, and most watched, British Soap Opera, then theatre with Oliver!, and of course, The Monkees. This all happened for you by the age of 21, could you have ever imagined such a journey?

Yeah you know I actually started before Coronation Street. My Auntie wrote the local television station which wanted kids for a radio play, that really opened the door, and before long I began reading the morning story on the BBC. “ And now the morning story is read by 11 year old Davy Jones from Manchester”. That sort of thing, I still have them on tape.

Were your parents onboard?

Yes. My Father wanted more for me, a different sort of life. Back then, everyone worked to help the family, including my three sisters, they always had jobs. Most kids did some kind of work and gave wages to the family to help with household expenses, keeping maybe 10 shilling to play around with for the week. Seems that everyone was in some sort of apprentice program. But he wanted me to be able to travel and really see things, something he was never able to do.

Sounds like the BBC was good to you.  

Yeah, but my Dad took me to the race track in Manchester and we came up with the idea of me being a jockey. He wrote the local newspaper about my ambitions, they introduced me a trainer, and at 14 that’s what I decided to become. It was during this time, hanging around the stables, I met theatrical agents and actors that owned horses.

I’d already done several plays and broadcasts, and was told by an agent about an audition in London for the Artful Dodger. I went that weekend, auditioned, got the part, six weeks later joined the cast … and basically never came back.

So you were just … well, a kid traveling with the cast of Oliver!, as the Artful Dodger. 

Yes, and about eight months later David Merrick, the famous producer came to London to see the show. It was the first time he could understand what the Artful Dodger was saying. I was from the North of England with a clearer accent.

He liked it and took the show on the road, first to Canada, then two years on Broadway. It did very well and Merrick put me in a couple of his other shows like Pickwick, then Columbia signed me to a long term, seven year contract.

That was some launch, what followed?

At 18 or 19 I moved to Franklin St, in Hollywood. Under contract I auditioned for movies like the Wackiest Ship in the Army, TV shows, like Hogan’s Hero’s, the role of Robin in Batman, I worked, stayed busy, and eventually landed The Monkees part. Unfortunately, (laughs) The Monkees ruined my acting career.

I was going to ask about that since you were an actor well before joining.

Well look, I got everything I asked for. It may have been a different path if I would have left Broadway, then jumped straight back to England, instead of doing The Monkees. People always see you in one light. But good things happened.

In 1985 I played the part of Jesus in Godspell, then in 1986 that was followed by The Monkees reunion tour which was backed up by a 24 hour MTV Monkee Marathon … once again the power of television. It was the highest grossing tour of the year. About 10 years ago I had one of my most treasured moments as an actor, going back to play the role of Fagin.

So you’ve come full circle with Oliver! , and the entertainment business has afforded you the opportunity to move about and do what you want.

Well yes, but it doesn’t have to be about dollars and cents as long as you’re satisfied. Today I perform about 30 or 40 concerts a year. People have fun, I tell a few stories, maybe a joke, mix the old and new music, classics, maybe throw in a Nat King Cole song, Daydream Believer, even a couple of songs my father sang to my mother.

But after 50 years in show business I’m allowed to have a few luxuries, a little more flexibility and freedom. I bred two beautiful foals this year and my sites are set on the 2013 Darby.

You’ve been everywhere. Let me ask … It seems that as we get older we become aware of the moments we should be remembering. But as a younger guy, were you taking a mental snapshot of your time with The Monkees, or your appearance on Ed Sullivan the night the Beatles first played?

You know something … I have a great memory and remember about everything. This includes my time as a child with my Mother when she was ill, the birth of my children and grandson. I’ve also written two books to document, and keep a little Walgreen’s notebook with me to record my thoughts, and song ideas as I go. So yeah, I’m fortunate enough to remember these important moments.

All this and you’re a regular guy?

I’m busy and enjoying myself. I have a beautiful wife, four wonderful daughters, a close extended family, and a great band. We have weekly Bar-B-Ques, I shop at the local market, fish, bike, hang out, … but I can’t believe where the years have gone (laughs) and they’re going to have to put me down with a shot.

Davy thanks for your time today.

Thank you Michael, and have a great day.

Monkees Rock Hall of Fame

Davy Discusses The Monkees Reunion Tour

Tuesday
Feb142012

The Night Whitney Houston Sang The National Anthem

An icon has passed on, and Whitney Houston was more than what that already lofty status means; she was music royalty, the legend of the legends. Simply, she was the voice that a higher power loans to a mortal maybe once every couple of centuries.

Untold numbers of people, from every generation, every genetic make-up, every country and every town in the world, were impacted by the music of Houston; it was hard not to be. Her talents were celestial, and regardless of her own inner turmoil, her gift to our lifetime will forever be held as sacred.

And for an entire nation, there was no bigger contribution to our American psyche than what took place on the evening of January 27, 1991. We were ten days into the Persian Gulf War, a country unnerved and weary. The field at Tampa Stadium was electric because it was the Super Bowl, and if anything could ease our nation’s heavy hearts for a few hours, football’s finest hour was surely it. But no one wanted to cheer too loudly, no one wanted to breach human etiquette by smiling too broadly. It was the time of the great unknown, and our dominant generation did not know when it was appropriate to resume normalcy. A leader was needed, a conductor to steer the train down the tracks.

With over 79 million people tuning in to the ABC broadcast, Whitney stepped onto the field to a mild crowd. Draped in a red, white and blue tracksuit and her standard effervescent smile, the songstress strolled up to the podium and grabbed the mic. The announcer asked the audience to join in the “Honoring of America" and "Especially the brave men and women serving our nation in the Persian Gulf and throughout the world." The turf was athlete-free, replaced by military personnel dressed in their various uniforms to signify the solidarity amongst the different branches of service.

The rendition for what was to come was different than previous incarnations of the Star Spangled Banner. Longtime collaborator Rickey Minor was charged with orchestrating a version with jazz chords and a soulful, gospel rhythm. He took the song out of its standard waltz tempo and added an additional beat per measure, which would enable Houston to open up her lungs and 'breathe'. NFL brass initially feared that the rendition would be too flamboyant for wartime. Minor recalled that "They thought the harmonies were too different, that it was sacrilegious."

But in the face of doubt and uneasiness, fate stepped in.

As Whitney pulled the mic towards her angelic lips, magic happened. From the moment the words exited her mouth, triumphant and bold and pitch perfect, the audience mesmerized, trapped in a moment in time that seemed to linger forever. It was an explosion, a jaw dropping exhibition of a supernatural talent.

Even the casual Atheist saw God that night.

As the song came to a conclusion, Whitney thrusted her arms victoriously skyward as four F-16 fighter jets from the 56th Tactical Training Wing at MacDill Air Force Base soared above. And that leader, that train conductor we were all searching for had just told us that everything was going to be okay.

No one remembers who won that Super Bowl. Most cannot recall who played in the game three years ago. But everyone remembers the heaven sent performance of Whitney Houston. We will always remember. It was, as she once crooned so elegantly, one moment in time.

Wednesday
Feb012012

Don Cornelius, 1936-2012

Legendary conductor of one of the most celebrated dance & music television shows in history, Don Cornelius, is at the center of global reportage regarding his death — an apparent instigator of his own demise in the form of suicide.

As the influential host of Soul Train, Cornelius had created a franchise that encouraged and enabled anyone to celebrate the power of music, especially the younger generations. With his silky, deep, baritone stylings Cornelius gave rise to the resounding black voices that changed the landscape of popular music culture. Timeless musical wonders like the King of Pop — Michael Jackson — were beneficiaries of Cornelius’ greatest creation.

Despite Cornelius’ own soul train passing under the heavy shadow of suicide, his words will continue to inspire, “…and you can bet your last money, it’s all gonna be a stone gas, honey! I’m Don Cornelius and I’m always parting — we wish you Love, Peace, and Soul!”

Monday
Jan302012

The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis

The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, a late fifties to early sixties sitcom, spanned the coming of age of a cohort of baby boomers, and laid the foundations of sitcom storytelling to be followed and imitated decades later. Gillis’ (Dwayne Hickman) trials and tribulations as he aspired to the worldly trappings coveted by a typical American teenager, made for a weekly ongoing storyline, rife with comedic situations, foibles, and shortfalls mirroring life.

The show included a narrative aside, with Gillis facing the camera, next to a statue of Rodin’s The Thinker, as he would make the audience privy to his inner thoughts and musings with an endearing familiarity. Those recurring, somewhat confessional asides endemic to Dobie Gillis were later rekindled in the pantheon of American television with shows such as The Adventures of Pete & Pete, Malcolm in the Middle, and The Bernie Mac Show.

The show also featured beatnik “wacky neighbor” Maynard G. Krebs (Bob Denver) whose laid back, inherently lazy demeanor, provided contrast to Gillis’ high strung entanglements, and paved the way for the laid back Shaggy in the seminal cartoon, Scooby Doo. The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, in many ways, articulated the ineffable, yet chasmic cultural transition from the sock hop era of the fifties, to the hippie movement of the mid to late sixties.

Sunday
Jan152012

Stephen J. Cannell: A Voluminous American Legend

His iconic peeling of a sheet from the platen of his IBM Selectric typewriter – the paper twirling and wafting into a letter “C” in a logo for Stephen J. Cannell Productions – bookended hour long cop shows in the seventies and eighties and even nineties. For many audience members, he was simply the bearded guy who appeared to be typing, perhaps in the act of writing the episodes of such shows as The Rockford Files, The A-Team, 21 Jump Street and The Commish. The recognizable trademark gimmick crept its way into the immortalization of The Simpsons satire, as a 1994 riff of “Itchy and Scratchy Productions.”

Born in Los Angeles, and raised in Pasedena, Cannell was no stranger to the Hollywood iconography he was to someday navigate within. His early days involved football; and, oddly, as one of the most prolific television writer cum novelists of this era: dyslexia. Dyslexia caused Cannell to be held back several grades while growing up, but did not deter him from listing projected career as “author” in his high school year book, and majoring in journalism while attending the University of Oregon on a football scholarship.

After college, he worked for his father’s company, and wrote with persistent determination every night after work. After five years, his dogged work ethic paid off – he got his first break selling a script to the show It Takes a Thief, and from that initial success landed a full time writing slot on the show Adam-12. He pitched Rockford Files, whose relatable and somewhat crotchety protagonist Jim Rockford defied the ideal of the hardboiled detective – bent rules when needed – and often found himself distracted by those appealing things of the worldly realm, and generally easier softer ways. The grumpy ex-con Rockford lived tenuously in his office trailer on a Malibu beach parking lot, and the stark cold open featured clients leaving messages on his answering machine as to why they couldn’t pay for his fees.

Stephen Cannell far left Rockford Files set

In many ways, the show paved the way for a paradigmatic shift in the detective, cop, and mystery genres of hour long television fare. Networks he pitched the pilot to saw things in terms of normality, and advertisement space sold, and categorically hated the risky premise. Fortunately NBC picked up the show in 1974, and the show became a television staple until its cancellation in 1980. He parlayed his television success and reconfiguration of the detective genre into the Shane Scully series, including titles such as: The Tin Collectors, Hollywood Tough, White Sister, and his posthumously published; The Prostitutes’ Ball, and Vigilante.

The somewhat down to earth approach of his works in many ways reflected the approachable and affable character of Cannell himself, who was known to greet audiences at book signings, answer questions fairly and politely, and with kindness. He was often found sitting at the signing table, and patiently talking with whomever was still left, seemingly never struck by prima donna urges to rudely harry over a fan’s awestruck discussions, and dart off to an awaiting Town Car.

Cannell’s lifelong struggle with dyslexia imbued his work and his public persona with a tone of empathy and understanding. He remained an ardent spokesman for dyslexia and learning disabilities until his death from melanoma complications in September of 2010. His voluminous body of work stands for itself.

Tuesday
Jan102012

Napoleon Dynamite TV Show 

Napoleon Dynamite, the 2004 film about a socially inept teenager; Kip, his live at home, cyber relationship pursuing thirty two year old brother; Pedro, his newly immigrated Mexican friend; and his van dwelling uncle Rico, who is seemingly frozen in a nostalgic gaze toward the year 1982, is now debuting on Fox, at 8:30 EST Sunday.

This animated half hour show will feature familiar voices from the film, and extrapolate the innocent, albeit absurd adventures of the Dynamite family, et al. In 2004 the limited release film waggled to a staggering cult presence in the national psyche, spawning a line of “Vote for Pedro” T-shirts, utterances of catchphrases like: “Gosh!,” and “You idiot!,” arguably leading to a mimicry of Napoleon’s moon boot by way of a surge in Ugg Boot wearing, and even led to a now defunct Napoleon Dynamite Festival (ala Lebowskifest) held annually in Preston, Idaho.

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