CBS Déjà Vu
I watched The Mentalist last night, and it had virtually the same critical plot element as this week's episode of NCIS: Los Angeles!
***spoiler alert for both of the above shows***
Both CBS programs used a staged (faked) shooting to trick a suspect into acting/confessing. Did anyone else notice the similiarity?
My Favorite Talk Show Host
My wife and I are big fans of Craig Ferguson. We've seen his stand-up show live, we've seen his stand-up DVD, we've seen most of his movies, and I've read his novel, Between the Bridge and the River. During his first year as host of The Late Late Show, I actually missed him on weekends. I've been waiting anxiously for several months since I heard he was putting out a memoir/autobiography, American on Purpose: The Improbable Adventures of an Unlikely Patriot.
Any fan of Ferguson will no doubt enjoy this book. It nicely fills in the gaps in his background that he only alludes to on television. If you want to know more about his ex-wives or his years as a punk rock drummer, American on Purpose has the details. And unlike many comedians, he doesn't recycle material in his book. In fact, I was surprised that many of the amusing anecdotes he has told on his show were left out (for example, on TV he tells how he was bored in Winnipeg and shaved his entire body; in the book, he describes shooting a movie in Winnipeg without mentioning the shaving incident).
I read this book aloud to my wife, and (predictably) we both loved it. I wish it was 50-100 pages longer -- his recent years in Hollywood are practically a blur (surprisingly little about The Drew Carey Show considering how long he was on it), and I'd like to know more about The Late Late Show and his citizenship process. I also wish there was an index. One of the things I love about Ferguson is his ability to be simultaneously hilarious and human; that emotional element makes American on Purpose a great book. I laughed plenty, but I couldn't read it aloud without an occasional lump in my throat. The photos are a hoot, too.
Current tally: 76 books finished, 69 books acquired
Television with the 'koffs
Last week, I read two very different books that together span the past three decades of network television.
The Last Great Ride by Brandon Tartikoff and Charles Leerhsen - Tartikoff is often lauded as the programming genius who brought NBC back to life in the 1980s, leaving a legacy of popular series including The Cosby Show, Cheers, Family Ties, Hill Street Blues, and many more. I grew up with these shows, so I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It is written in an anecdotal format rather than chronological, which suits the material well. The style is conversational; it's like having dinner with Tartikoff and hearing him recount tales from his career. Although the content is obviously dated, anyone who watched prime-time TV in the 1980s should love this book.
Billion-Dollar Kiss: The Kiss That Saved Dawson's Creek and Other Adventures in TV Writing by Jeffrey Stepakoff - This author's career began as Tartikoff's was ending (with a couple years of overlap). Billion-Dollar Kiss is more chronological than The Last Great Ride, and it also provides much more historical context. Rather than just telling about his own experiences, Stepakoff devotes many pages to the evolution of the television industry and the Writers Guild of America. He starts working near the end of the independent studio era and then describes the effects of deregulation in 1996, followed by the stock market crash of 2000 and the rise of "reality" programming. Along the way, he gives insight into the daily life of a TV writer. Although Dawson's Creek figures prominently in the subtitle and in Stepakoff's career, this book isn't really "about" that series (which was fine with me since I never watched it). Billion-Dollar Kiss is a good history and description of the TV writing world that should interest anyone curious about how TV series are made, especially someone considering a career in the industry.
Current tally: 33 books finished, 28 books acquired
When I saw a program on Monday night's TV schedule called My Music: My Generation - The 60s, I thought, I'll bet my mom might enjoy that. Then I went to the Web site of WTTW, our local PBS affiliate, to find out more about the show. A handy link on the homepage leads to this:
Following up on the same audience as The 60s Experience and This Land Is Your Land this My Music special appeals to the "sixties generation" of baby boomers. The program focuses on the years 1965 -1969 and includes essential 60s folk rock, R&B and pop in the latest production in the My Music fundraising series, designed to attract and renew the 50+ crowd who "survived the sixties" to support public television. The 8-CD set features the biggest hits by the original 1960's artists in this celebration and collection of "folks" that lived through the decade of change, peace, love and protest music. [emphasis added]Somebody at WTTW screwed up. It's bad enough that this mentions "the 8-CD set" -- that shows that the program description likely was cribbed from a "thank-you gift" description. But to bluntly state that this program was "designed" to get people over age 50 to make pledges? That's crass.
"Hello, Mom? I just called to tell you about a show tonight on Channel 11. It's got a bunch of sixties music, and they really want your money."
The Early Show with Craig Ferguson
Though Craig Ferguson is host of the Late Late Show on CBS, we'll be seeing him at the early show on May 26 at Zanies, a comedy club in St. Charles (too bad he isn't appearing at Zanies in Chicago -- not only would it be much easier to get to, but the city's smoking ban is now in effect).
Before my wife's work schedule changed, I used to watch Ferguson every night. I still think his monologue is easily the best on television, both in content and delivery. The way he takes one topic and runs with it for 12-14 minutes every night is amazing. When we got Netflix, his movies were among the first in our queue. Saving Grace and The Big Tease were both funny movies, even if they covered some familiar ground (a gay hairdresser isn't exactly a novel character). My wife likes him, too, and she keeps saying we need to see the Late Late Show live sometime. While I would like to, I've been to Los Angeles once, and I don't intend to ever return (see Death Cab For Cutie's "Why You'd Want to Live Here").
Needless to say, we're both looking forward to seeing him do stand-up, even though we'll have to postpone our trip to Colorado for a few days.
Coincidence or Savvy Subliminal Marketing?
The other night I was watching Boston Legal, which features William Shatner along with the best camera operators and video editors in television. A commercial came on... for Enterprise Rent-A-Car!
Sorry, Craig, I Can't Take It
Since Craig Ferguson was hosting the People's Choice Awards tonight, I thought I'd try watching it. I was already watching NCIS anyway. Pauley Perrette just cracks me up. Well, as you might guess from the timestamp of this entry, I didn't make it. Not even close. The People's Choice Awards were the most inane spectacle I've seen in a long time.
The show began with Jessica Simpson, so it was probably doomed from the start. Then Ferguson did an introductory monologue that wasn't particularly inspired. As a regular viewer of The Late Late Show, I recognized a lot of recycled material, and it wasn't even his best stuff.
First award: leading lady. Nominees: Cameron Diaz, Reese Witherspoon, Renee Zellweger. Well, Cameron is just "okay" in my book, and I can't stand to look at Renee's mousy face and squinty eyes. And Walk the Line was a way bigger movie than the ones those two were in (I thought the only thing Zellweger did this year was get her marriage to that guy with the cowboy hat over his eyes annulled). Heck, my parents still haven't seen Walk the Line because even last weekend it was sold out, and it's been in theaters for a while. Plus Reese had to work way harder than those other two. She had to learn how to sing -- like June Carter, no less. Duh, Reese Witherspoon won, probably by a landslide.
Going into the first commercial break, some bubblehead was in the audience talking to Teri Hatcher about her nice hair. Then she announced that a hair product company was sponsoring a "best hair" award. But she was such a tease -- she wouldn't announce the winner until after the commercial break. Sheesh. Nominees: Faith Hill, Jennifer Garner, Nicole Kidman. Are you kidding me? I mean, I've always had a thing for Nicole Kidman, but I've never thought she had nice hair. Usually it's stringy, wiry or thin. And I hate it when she's blonde (though she once did a photo shoot with black hair that looked even worse). I've always had a thing for Jennifer Garner, too, but hair was never really a part of the attraction. So I suppose that leaves Faith Hill, if I cared.
I didn't. As soon as the hair commercial started (featuring -- what a shock -- Teri Hatcher), I said hasta la vista to Craig and the People's Choice Awards. On the bright side, Dr. Phil is going to be on The Late Late Show tonight. That should be entertaining since he's one of Ferguson's favorite impersonation subjects.
Lance Armstrong On SNL
Lance Armstrong hosted Saturday Night Live this weekend with musical guest (surprise, surprise) Sheryl Crow. I was impressed to see Lance take on a number of acting parts--some non-actors who host just play themselves. He was in a lot of sketches, too. Some of the SNL critics online are ripping on Lance, but I'd say he wasn't bad for an athlete. That's a big qualifier, though.
The monologue was okay--it could have been better but could have been much worse. The Q & A format isn't my favorite for a monologue, but it beats heck out of having the host sing something stupid (we'll get to that later). The disgruntled teammates asking why they can't co-host since cycling is a team sport were funny, but it's too bad the real George Hincapie didn't show up for a cameo, especially since he was born in Queens. Heck, they should have invited the whole Discovery Channel team; it's not like they have anything better to do at this time of the year. Patrick O'Grady at VeloNews.com had a better idea for an opening. In light of the Tour de France organization's dissing of Armstrong at the 2006 route unveiling last week, he suggested
Don't you think that would have been better than having a Frenchman ask Lance for his urine?
In New York, meanwhile, a vengeful Armstrong reportedly was planning to deliver his SNL monologue in German, astride a scale model of the Maginot Line, while musical guest/fiancée Sheryl Crow covers the Randy Newman classic, "Political Science:"
No one likes us - I don't know why
We may not be perfect, but heaven knows we try
But all around, even our old friends put us down
Let's drop the big one and see what happens
The celebrity triathlon sketch was really stupid, especially for anyone who knows anything about Lance (he was a star triathlete before he turned to cycling, and he still runs and races duathlons (with good results) in the off-season just for fun). Okay, it was a little funny to see him running like an idiot, just not realistic--he's not a one-dimensional athlete like some cyclists. But I liked his line, "They say you never forget how to ride a bike. Well, they don't say that about swimming."
The 80s music smoke alarm commercial was hilarious. The Indigo Girls with Sheryl sketch was screwy and annoying, not a good combination. Lance stumbled over his lines to make it worse. Of course I enjoyed the Bill O'Reilly parody. I just can't stand that guy, and this sketch highlighted most of the reasons (except I don't think he cut anyone's microphone in the sketch). Weekend Update was long. I liked the Chicago bit, especially Celozzi-Ettleson, but 95% of viewers were probably clueless. The parts with Harriet Miers drunk-dialing Bush and Mrs. Butterworth Bin Laden terrorizing New York were amusing, too.
The sketch with Lance singing for Sheryl was rather predictable, as in "I-expected-it-as-soon-as-I-heard-they-were-going-to-be-on-SNL-together" predictable. And painful. Or was it so awful that it was good? I don't know... Carol was another weak skit. Lance was alternately wooden and on the verge of cracking up. I don't know if he was laughing because he thought the skit was funny or just laughing at the absurdity of being a host trapped in a really lame sketch.
I was surprised to see Sheryl do a song ("Strong Enough") from her first album; usually performers push their new stuff on SNL. I thought Lance acted well in the last skit, but it wasn't all that good or funny. Plus it seemed to get cut off--what becomes of Lance's character? I guess they ran out of time because the farewell was very short, too.
Judging from the four SNL episodes I've seen from this season and last (the bar is much lower nowadays than it once was), it was a decent show. I must admit, however, that the most exciting thing I saw was a promo for a special about 1980s SNL on November 13. And next Saturday's episode of commercial parodies could be good, though it might be overkill after the first half hour.
I wish I had Sirius radio. I would like to have heard Lance talking with Bill Clinton on Armstrong Radio on Sunday. It was probably better than SNL.
U2 Appearing On Conan O'Brien Tonight
The band U2 will be on Late Night with Conan O'Brien for the entire hour tonight. If I were Conan, I would ask Bono, "So, did you ever find whatever the hell it was you were looking for?"
Man, I hate that song. The Joshua Tree was pretty much the end of U2 for me (listening to "With Or Without You" is downright painful), although there were some redeeming songs on Rattle and Hum, particularly "When Love Comes To Town."
I will probably be watching The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson instead, regardless of who he has on (by the way, it's Henry Winkler, Aron Ralston, and Julie Gribble). Ferguson's monologues, or "opening statements" as his web site calls them, are simply brilliant (or "f***ing brilliant," as Bono would say). He is the best thing to come out of Scotland since single malt whisky.
Mr. Bill Saves The Coastal Wetlands
The legendary Saturday Night Live clay hero (or more often, victim) Mr. Bill is part of a program to draw attention to the crisis of the disappearing wetlands in Louisiana. Of course that is all too obvious in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, but this project for American's Wetland Campaign to Save Coastal Louisiana began in 2004. Mr. Bill creator Walter Williams made nine additional clay figures representing the threatened biodiversity of the region and named them "the Estuarians."
Williams does more than play with clay. The filmmaker also has produced a great interactive DVD called "New Orleans - The Natural History." You can watch a low quality, 45-minute streaming video online. If you haven't learned a lot about the history and ecology of NOLA already in the past month, I highly recommend this fascinating program, even though Mr. Bill isn't in it.
Last month Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu gave a nod to Mr. Bill in her criticism of the government's response to Katrina:
"We know the president said, quote, 'I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees,' " Ms. Landrieu said. "Everybody anticipated the breach of the levee, Mr. President, including computer simulations in which this administration participated."Come to think of it, there's a new nickname for our commander in chief: President Sluggo!
The senator went on to describe how the creator of Mr. Bill, the clay figurine whose cry of "Ohh noooo!" was long a staple of "Saturday Night Live," had used the character in public service announcements to warn southern Louisianians of the dangers they would face in an extraordinary storm.
"How can it be," she asked, "that Mr. Bill was better informed than Mr. Bush?"
Live From New York
I picked up Live From New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live for only $5.99 in the bargain section a few months ago. After I finished writing my own book last month, I finally had time to read it. I have always been interested in Saturday Night Live as a social phenomenon as well as for its entertainment value, which has varied widely over the years. During SNL's classic early years in the late 1970s I was too young to be allowed to watch it, which only made it more intriguing. By the time I was in high school (late 1980s), SNL was the one weekend event sure to be discussed in the hallways on Monday morning. My Spanish teacher was an SNL fanatic, and he used to blurt out hilarious lines from characters like "Ed Grimley." In my second job out of college (circa 1994), we often quoted SNL characters such as Phil Hartman's "Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer." Soon after I lost interest in television altogether. But enough about me...
I thought I would only be interested in the years when SNL was a part of my life, but I enjoyed the entire book. It is written in an oral history style using extensive quotes from cast members, executives, hosts, writers, and others involved directly with the show. The words from authors Tom Shales and James Andrew Miller (Miller is incorporated as Jimmy the Writer, which makes me feel that my own company name isn't quite so lame after all) are more like those of a narrator in a play, limited to providing background and transitions. The only problem I had with this format was keeping all the names straight, particularly for the early years. Aside from that, it worked well and moved along quickly. My only quibble with the organization of the book was the last chapter. After chapters for each "era" of the program, the last section was simply "Lorne," a disjointed, chronologically scrambled character sketch of SNL originator and producer Lorne Michaels. The end matter includes a list of cast members by year, but I wish they had included a list of hosts and musical guests (Wikipedia has one).
Live From New York is fascinating for its behind-the-scenes look at how the show is put together. Surprisingly little has changed in the weekly routine. The legendary Tuesday up-all-night writing marathons were probably a lot easier when almost everybody was doing drugs. More recent cast members like Janeane Garafalo have criticized the outdated, stressful schedule. She comes across negatively in the book, as does Chevy Chase. Chase was the first big star to outgrow SNL, but he became increasingly hard to work with each time he returned to host. There are enlightening nuggets to be found throughout the book. First person accounts give insight into controversies such as the Sinead O'Connor incident. Julia Sweeney explains how her androgynous "Pat" character developed because of her inability to be convincingly masculine in drag. Cast members talk about the deaths of many associated with the show, including Chris Farley, who idolized John Belushi. Regarding Belushi, there is harsh criticism of Bob Woodward's biography, Wired.
Ultimately, this book should have been longer. I would have liked to read more about some of the popular characters portrayed in the show. The jacket claims that "they're all here," but I suppose that was better copy than the more accurate, "They're mostly here but barely." As someone who wore a "Mr. Bill" T-shirt in his youth, I was crushed to see his name appear only twice in the whole book. Incredibly, Don Novello is quoted in the book but his "Father Guido Sarducci" is nowhere to be found. Adam Sandler's "Opera Man" is never mentioned, and "Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer" is only named once (oddly as "Frozen Caveman Lawyer"). Many of my favorite moments were omitted, too, such as the episode where the Church Lady disciplined host Rob Lowe. And there was very little about Dennis Miller anchoring "Weekend Update" although he did it longer than anyone else. I suppose everyone has his or her own favorite sketches and characters, so maybe it was considered impractical to get into anything beyond the most famous or controversial ones.
Live From New York left me begging for more, and its format hints that there are lots of snippets from interviews that didn't make the final cut. It is a good introduction to the madness behind the scenes of this program. Now I really understand how much preparation goes into pulling off the 90-minute show every week, and why everyone in the cast looks so tired and "glad it's over" as they hug and wave goodbye at the end.
Saturday Night Live's New Season
Every year I am amazed that Saturday Night Live returns. Last week was a rerun of what many called the best show of last season, the episode with Will Ferrell. We watched only because I had just finished reading Live From New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live. We both thought the show was pretty lousy. The only redeeming segment was the commercial for Para Tri-Cyclen, birth control for women who sleep around (it was funnier than it sounds). The rest was labored, and it just reminded me why the Ferrell years never appealed to me.
Like so many perennially disappointed SNL viewers, I decided to give them another chance with the new season. Being an SNL fan is like being a Chicago Cubs fan (I used to be both, but I haven't paid much attention to either since the early 1990s). The verdict? At least it was better than the Will Ferrell episode. The opening press conference was okay, but I was disturbed to see so many cast members introduced at the beginning--the show was so much better with fewer players (granted, Tina Fey and Maya Rudolph have limited roles at the moment due to past/current pregnancy). The monologue featured a song, and I hate it when the host sings. Nine times out of ten this type of monologue is lame, and tonight was no exception.
There were a few entertaining sketches, though. One had Amy Poehler on the JetBlue plane that recently made a dramatic emergency landing watching live CNN coverage of the drama. I liked the over-the-top graphic simulation that showed the jet bursting into flames repeatedly. The Robert Smigel cartoon showing John Roberts obfuscating throughout his personal life (beyond the Senate hearings) was funny. The sketch near the end with Debbie Downer meeting her ideal mate at a wedding was entertaining, as was the sketch with the fighting Needlers (a skit only a married person could truly understand).
I was anxious to see Kanye West, not because I thought he would say anything controversial, but because I have been living under a rock and never heard his music despite living in Chicago. I was impressed--it was definitely not your run-of-the-mill hip-hop, and I can appreciate artists who push the boundaries. West was backed by a large string section comprised of women dressed in black with red rectangles around their eyes. They reminded me a little of the women from Robert Palmer's 1980s videos.
The rest was forgettable, sometimes regrettable, particularly the "Girls Gone Wild Katrina" commercial--that not-so-funny joke was already worn out about a week after the flood. Weekend Update was weak, even worse without Tina Fey than it was last year. Sorry, I was a big fan of the Dennis Miller era when Update had some teeth.
Okay, I promise I won't post a review of SNL every week. I should write about Live From New York instead since the book was much more interesting than the show has been in years.
Censorship That I Support
Months ago I wrote a blog entry unequivocally opposed to censorship. Well, perhaps I was wrong. Last night (actually in the wee hours of this morning), I found a case where censorship is not only justified, but preferred.
Around 2 AM we noticed that our dog Teddy's left hind leg was swollen. Since he contracted auto-immune disease a few weeks ago, we have been keeping a close eye on him. We called the animal hospital where he was treated, and they said we should bring him in just to be safe. That was how we found ourselves watching the Animal Planet cable channel in the hospital lounge at 4 AM. It was one of those shows with animal police who rescue abandoned kittens, abused dogs, etc. It was set in Miami, which the producers reminded us by showing brief glimpses of tanned, bikini-clad women between program segments (not that I'm complaining).
One of the dogs, named Kilo (since the police never found his owner, I assume they gave him that name), had a badly broken leg. He was a medium-sized, mixed breed that didn't look like either of our dogs but somehow reminded me of both. A neighbor said someone had run him over on purpose, but that was never verified. The animal police took Kilo to a vet who fixed his leg with a Rube Goldbergian brace. An older man adopted Kilo as he began his convalescence. When Kilo came in for a check-up, his leg looked better, but the vet noticed something disturbing--he was showing signs of neurological damage. In his time living on the street without proper care, he had contracted distemper. He had only a one-in-ten chance of recovering.
The vet came out to talk to us about Teddy's condition. She thought it was probably a blood clot, which is more common in dogs with auto-immune disease. She was uncertain whether he might have some sort of protein deficiency; the tests she ran showed low counts, but she didn't trust the machine because it sometimes gives bad readings. She recommended that we have it tested at our regular vet when we do his next blood test (by the way, Teddy's last red blood cell count was 31, a significant improvement). If the protein is a problem, it will require a few days of hospitalization. It sounds like something that may not be worth putting him through. We are concerned about where to draw the line between helping him get better versus merely keeping him alive for our own sake.
As she was talking to us, the TV program returned to Kilo for his next vet visit. This time he was in bad shape. He was shaking and clearly in pain. The vet told the owner, who had already grown quite attached to the little guy, that Kilo would have to be put down. As our vet talked about how to treat Teddy's blood clot, assuming it's just a clot, I watched the old guy give Kilo one last pat on the head goodbye and walk out of the room. Fade to black.
So that's one time when I would prefer censorship--the veterinary hospital should censor Animal Planet so people who are worried about their own pets only see the happy endings on TV. We don't need to see the alternative; it's already too real in our minds.
South Park Conservatives?
In the article "Oh My God! They Tried to Steal South Park!" Simon Maloy goes after a book of deep b.s. called South Park Conservatives: The Revolt against Liberal Media Bias by Brian C. Anderson. The book claims that the South Park cartoon television show is "overthrowing the liberal media bias and political correctness" because it makes fun of liberals. Sure it does, but Maloy makes the point that is obvious to anybody who watches the program: they make fun of everybody, regardless of political or ideological position. That is one of the things that makes the show so great--it skewers both sides and lets us laugh at ourselves as much as we do our opponents. It's surely the most politically charged program I can watch with my woefully Republican dad without getting into an argument.
Anderson's book sounds like a classic work of selective citation. Maloy provides numerous counter-examples, and it took me, oh, ten seconds to think of more. What about the episode about gay Boy Scout leaders where Big Gay Al is heartbroken to lose his position in the troop? He is replaced by a "manly," military-type guy who orders the boys to take off their clothes. In fact, there are lots of South Park episodes that show acceptance of gays (while mocking and celebrating their idiosyncrasies), which doesn't exactly fit today's Republican agenda.
In addition to poking fun at Pat Robertson (which Maloy notes), South Park has gone after just about every religion. Pope John Paul II was presented as the drooling, nearly dead leader of priests who, when presented with child molestation charges, wanted to find a way to stop little boys from telling on them. The episode about Satan and Saddam in Hell was particularly ecumenical in its ridicule. Cartman made himself into an evangelist whose only goal was to make ten million dollars from his followers by using the fear of eternal damnation, an obvious jab at TV preachers. Then Satan's director addressed people new to Hell:
Protestant: Hey, wait a minute. I shouldn't be here, I was a totally strict and devout Protestant. I thought we went to heaven.When Saddam Hussein went to Heaven (Satan asked God for a favor because Saddam and Satan's boyfriend kept killing each other; whenever Saddam died, he came back to Hell--"Well, where was I gonna go? Detroit?"), he was met by a group of Mormons. One said, "We're just about to do a play, about how much stealing hurts you deep inside. Come join us." When Saddam cried out, "Nooo! Nu- nooooooooooo!" we all felt a little sorry for him.
Hell Director: Yes, well, I'm afraid you are wrong.
Soldier: I was a practicing Jehovah's Witness.
Hell Director: Uh, you picked the wrong religion as well.
Man from Crowd: Well who was right? Who gets in to Heaven?
Hell Director: I'm afraid it was the Mormons. Yes, the Mormons were the correct answer.
The Damned: Awwww...
Anderson quotes a student about what being a South Park conservative means:
The label is really about rejecting the image of conservatives as uptight squares--crusty old men or nerdy kids in blue blazers. We might have long hair, smoke cigarettes, get drunk on weekends, have sex before marriage, watch R-rated movies, cuss like sailors--and also happen to be conservative, or at least libertarian.Maloy deliciously counters that this profile has rather broad appeal:
Forgive the skepticism, but finding college students who drink, smoke, fornicate, and watch Quentin Tarantino films is like finding sand on the beach.For a supposedly individualistic society, we are hell-bent on shoehorning people into groups and labeling them, be they South Park conservatives, limousine liberals, or beauty salon libertarians. This book just demonstrates that one can write about anything these days, and if it leans right, people will buy it no matter how weak its premise (see Thomas Friedman's pathetic The World Is Flat--its title and thesis unintentionally imply that connectedness has taken civilization backward six hundred years!).
While Eric Cartman is the most quintessential young Republican on television since Michael J. Fox on Family Ties, his political position doesn't always help him, nor is it presented as the preferred choice; it's just who he is. He is hardly a role model, and even his own friends tell him how heartless he is. If this is the image that conservatives want to claim for themselves, then let them. But South Park as a whole? Ridiculous.
A Chicago Tribune editorial today called for an end to government funding for PBS. At first blush, this reminds me of the time during the presidential campaign when Bush called for an end to 527 organizations because he saw progressive groups like Moveon.org gaining power (he didn't really mind the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, another 527). As conservatives try to FoxNews-ify PBS, an easier alternative is just to cut it loose completely.
The Trib editorial notes that PBS and its government support produced great shows like Sesame Street and Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. Then it says that nowadays with cable television there is no need for PBS. It is true that certain cable channels offer programming similar to PBS' evening shows (the Trib mentions Discovery and The History Channel, among others), but as far as I know, no one has educational programming like PBS. Nickelodeon and Disney offer entertainment for kids, but I don't think they teach anything. This seems to be an error in logic on the part of the Trib's editorial board--their argument would have been better had they used Nova as an example of a program with cable competition.
They also complain that PBS is boring. I hardly ever watch television, but whenever I hear about an interesting show on PBS, I watch it. And I almost always find myself watching another show or two after the one I tuned in to see. I don't know, maybe that makes me boring.
PBS "gets 15 to 20 percent of its budget--$350 million to $400 million a year--from the federal government," according to the editorial. This is a common trick used in political arguments (Amtrak being another recent example). While that number sounds huge to Joe Sixpack (who probably doesn't watch PBS since they don't cover NASCAR or pro wrestling), it is a tiny part of the federal budget. Compare those millions with the trillions required for Bush's proposed social security privatization plan. Killing PBS would reduce government spending about as much as eliminating paper clips would help the average household budget. In essence, every American taxpayer contributes $2-3 a year to fund PBS. I don't think that's such a bad investment, especially considering that many subscribers pay $75-100 per month to "fund" cable television. I think the Bush administration should stop interfering with PBS, and they certainly shouldn't eliminate its funding.
So Long, Johnny
Like almost everyone over the age of 25 or so, I was saddened to hear of Johnny Carson's death on Sunday. My parents watched him all the time; for all I knew, the other channels played "The Star-Spangled Banner" after the 10:00 news and went off the air. I grew up with Johnny. For a while, my bedtime was 10:30 when he came on. Sometimes I was allowed to stay up to see his monologue. When I got older, my bedtime shifted to 11:30 so I could watch the whole show. Johnny was a constant through my teenage years, and he retired as I graduated from college.
I still recite bits from his show. Just the other day I repeated one of my favorites, a spoof on the Ernest and Julio Gallo wine commercials. After "we will sell no wine before its time," they cut to Johnny dressed up as a bum with a brown paper bag in hand. "It's time!" he exclaimed, taking a swig from the sack.
I'll never forget when Julio Iglesias was on the Tonight Show, and Johnny came out dressed as Willie Nelson to sing the duet "To All The Girls I've Loved Before." That was especially appropriate considering that Johnny was married four times!
Another area where Johnny stood above other talk shows was in developing (and playing) recurring characters, like Carnac the Magnificent and Floyd R. Turbo (of whom I am reminded every time I see a hat with ear flaps). I also remember recurring gags like the Slawson Cutoff and the law firm of Dewey, Cheatham & Howe.
Johnny was such a great all-around entertainer, someone who could tell jokes, do interviews, and perform in sketches. Just look at how many people have failed with talk shows and remember that Johnny succeeded for 30 years. There will be many tributes this week, and the Tribune has an excellent obituary. A few years ago I bought my parents a "Johnny Carson Collection" video set. I wish I had my own to watch tonight.