This morning on ABC's This Week, Ted Cruz said that Republicans still have a chance of repealing "every single word" of Obamacare in 2015. No, he doesn't. But he does think saying that will get him votes and support and other benefits. There are people out there who, first of all, buy into the lie that — as he claimed — the Affordable Care Act has cost "millions of jobs." And secondly, there are folks out there who admire a person who fights and fights and fights and fights and won't admit defeat.
I don't know about your life but in mine, I know people who've taken a medium-sized loss and turned it into a devastating one by chanting this storybook mantra about how a man who won't be defeated can't be defeated. Hey, watch any sporting event where two teams compete. One always loses. I had an acquaintance — now deceased and in large part because of this — who lost a lawsuit, lost all appeals…and then proceeded to lose his life's savings and health, going from lawyer to lawyer, trying to find one who could reverse the loss. By the end, I don't think he even thought he had a winnable case. He just thought that Not Giving Up would somehow prevail.
Cruz isn't dumb enough to think Barack Obama, who'll still be in the White House through 2015, will sign legislation that wipes out Obamacare. Cruz is also not dumb enough to think Republicans can rack up a veto-proof majority in the Senate. There aren't enough seats in play for that to happen. And Obamacare is becoming more popular, not less.
And on top of all that, so many people are signing up for it that you can't just repeal it without dumping millions out of their health plans. To get rid of it now, you have to offer a workable alternative…which Republicans don't have.
I'm not worried about Obamacare being repealed. I do fear for a country that thinks Ted Cruz is a leader.
Who was he? You may not have known the name or face but you heard his voice on thousands of commercials, especially movie trailers. Hal died yesterday at his home in Virginia. Here he is parodying what he did (so well) for a living in a trailer for a Jerry Seinfeld documentary…
Well, it's official: For the first time since I got my first TiVo in 1999, I have no season passes for any late night shows. I gave up on Fallon last week and just canceled my pass for Seth Meyers. The Late Night Wars have finally claimed a casualty in my house: My interest in watching late night shows, at least on a regular basis. Henceforth, I intend to scan the guest lists and record episodes on an individual basis.
Technology has changed the game a lot. Once upon a time, I watched the late night shows — Johnny's, especially — because there was always the chance of missing something wonderful. Too many times, I'd miss Johnny and the next day, someone would say, "Did you see what happened on Carson last night?" If you hadn't, you were probably outta luck. The show might be rerun but not for a long time. (At one point, Johnny's reruns were a year old…and they never repeated shows with guest hosts.)
Today with DVRs, we usually don't miss our favorite shows in the first place, reruns are more current, and anything wonderful can be found on the 'net the next day. That's why I have no hesitation to not record some of these shows anymore. If it's great, it'll be more easily found and watched on YouTube. At times, the initial broadcast almost feels like an effort to generate YouTube videos.
The ratings haven't settled down to any sort of long-term "norm" yet. Fallon is kicking it but a bit less with each passing show. There are more or less two separate races here — the contest for the most total viewers and the contest for the 18-49 bracket. At the moment, Fallon's leading handily in both. Letterman's in second place with total viewers. Kimmel's in second place with 18-49. It wouldn't surprise anyone if that's the way it goes for a long time, though with narrower margins.
You have to wonder how Letterman feels about all this. So far, there's no indication that Leno viewers — older ones who may feel distanced from Fallon's guests and references — are taking sanctuary in Dave's show. They seem to be sticking with Fallon…or at least, he hasn't immediately lost much of Leno's audience share as Conan O'Brien did. The industry press seems to be covering the battle as one of guys named Jimmy with little notice of that guy over on CBS. Dave's show is not unprofitable and I can imagine that if he wants to stay and do it — even clearly in last place — CBS might be willing to tolerate that for a few years. I can also imagine Les Moonves sitting down with Letterman and saying, "We should start thinking about succession…"
Even though reports say he has a contractual guarantee of replacing Dave, I don't think Craig Ferguson will be an option. He didn't do all that well against Fallon at 12:35. I don't know why anyone would think he'd perform better at 11:35. If I were CBS, I'd send a Brinks Truck to Stephen Colbert's house but I'm sure others will be discussed. And maybe not for another few years.
But let's see. I'd guess four more weeks before we'll be able to say ratings have settled in and Fallon no longer enjoys the advantage of sheer newness plus that Olympian bump. It would not surprise me if he wound up right where Jay was. I think NBC would still be happy if that's the case…and Dave would still be wondering when the call's coming from Moonves.
This is the trailer for a new documentary I'm looking forward to seeing. It's all about Elaine Stritch, who has now retired after a helluva career…
John Cassidy goes over the latest jobs reports and unemployment figures. I really don't understand this bizarre claim we're hearing now from some people that folks who are poor or unemployed just aren't trying hard. I'm sure there are a few someplace but every time anyone holds a Job Fair these days, six hundred people show up for 150 openings. Are the 450 who get turned away lazy? Not trying? I can think of at least a dozen people I've encountered lately who are broke, unable to find work and willing to do just about anything legal to make a modest living.
Our friend Stan Sakai is a brilliant cartoonist and one of the four nicest people involved in the production of the Groo the Wanderer comics. He and his wonderful wife Sharon have had a rough time of things lately and could use help with Sharon's medical expenses. She has been seriously ill and while on the road to recovery, she still needs around-the-clock medical care. They have insurance but insurance only goes so far, and Sharon's medical needs extend beyond what insurance will cover.
To help the Sakais, Stan's many friends have rallied in support with donations of cash and artwork. There are two major fund-raising efforts. One is a book that Dark Horse is publishing — a collection of cartoons by an incredible array of cartoonists. The drawings are so amazing, you'll probably never get around to reading the foreword by me in it. Watch for this book. Buy it. And yes, it's a contribution to the Sakais' well-being but it's also a terrific book which you should purchase just because it's a terrific book.
The other effort is something you can get in on right now…and again, it's to your benefit as much as it is to the Sakais'. A "Who's Who" of great artists has donated drawings — some pre-existing, some done for the occasion — for a big online art auction that's being run by the Comic Art Professional Society, aka CAPS. The first batch of many wonderful pieces can be bid upon right this minute over on this page. The proceeds go to two good people who need aid…and you can get a terrific, to-be-treasured art piece out of it. I'd call that a Win/Win…so go win/win and get one. Or two. Or more.
Paul Krugman rips the latest of many Paul Ryan plans, all of which pretty much come down to "slash spending on the poor and taxes on the rich." If this is such a good idea, you'd think Ryan and his colleagues would just admit that's their answer to everything, rather than try to dress it up as something we should do because it'll be good for the poor. I get the feeling that if you were involved in a serious accident and you asked Paul Ryan if he knew how to stop the bleeding, he'd say the only way is to slash spending on the poor and taxes on the rich.
Yesterday here, I linked to a recording of Jack Benny speaking at U.C.L.A. in 1973. Later in the day, I received this message from my buddy, Steve Stoliar…
I was in that U.C.L.A. auditorium in 1973 when Jack Benny spoke. I had no idea anyone had recorded it. What a blast from my past! After he'd been speaking for quite a long time, the moderator said, "Well, I know Mr. Benny has to leave…" to which Benny replied, "I don't have to leave. I can stay, if you like," which was met with thunderous applause. Afterward, he even stayed to sign autographs. I hadn't thought to bring anything, so I pulled a dollar bill out of my wallet and he signed it. Only later did I realize how a propos it was, given his penny-pinching persona. Given his exuberance, no one would've guessed he'd be dead a year later.
I would imagine Mr. Benny was quite happy that so many young people had turned out for him and wanted to stay as long as he did.
A question I would have loved to have asked him is this. George Burns told me, and I've heard it from others, that Benny was the first major radio comedian to give meaningful credits to his writers. He said that before Jack did it, the only way a writer got credit was if the show was a mixture of different kinds of material such that a writing credit didn't necessarily mean that that person had written what the comedian said. Most comedians, he said, wanted to perpetuate the notion that they — not their writers — were funny.
If you had a variety show, a writing credit might mean that the writer stitched the show together or wrote introductions, but that the monologues and sketches still emanated from the brain of the comedian. But when you had a mostly-comedy show like Benny did, a writer credit suggested that the star wasn't making all that funny stuff up.
When Benny started doing this, Burns said, other comedians went to him and told him to stop. They knew that if Benny gave his writers credit, they'd eventually have to do likewise — and they didn't want to do likewise. The argument they advanced was that the public doesn't want to know that writers write what the comedian says just as they don't want to know that movie heroes use stuntmen. In other words, it's better for the audience if the writers don't get credited.
Benny didn't buy this. He went ahead and credited his writers and, of course, no one had a more successful career as a radio comedian or was more beloved. I'd be fascinated to know what went through Mr. Benny's mind when he made his decision. It was a good one and according to Burns, it pissed off a number of his friends. (George says he was not among the pissed-off…)
I don't know who this lady is but she does a great job of double-talk in a variety of languages, including English. This is what each language sounds like to someone who doesn't understand it. Wish we could have arranged for her to have a conversation with Sid Caesar…
I feel the need to write something about a drama that I think/hope has now played itself out. The World Science-Fiction Convention, which this year will be known as Loncon 3 and held in London, invited the British TV personality and presenter Jonathan Ross to host its Hugo Award Ceremony. Jonathan, a devout fan of such matters and an experienced host, accepted the volunteer (note: unpaid) job.
And you should know here that Jonathan's a friend of mine and I think he's terrific at what he does. Matter of fact, I have a TV project now under discussion with one of the cable networks and I've been trying to attach Jonathan to it as host, even though it would mean flying him in for tapings. (I don't think the project's going to happen, by the way, but the network was so impressed with videos they saw of Jonathan in action that they bought the American TV rights to air one of the shows he's done in Great Britain.)
Anyway, whoever on the Loncon committee invited Jonathan apparently failed to clear it with the entire committee. At least one or two members of said committee didn't think that was a good idea. When it was announced, a lot of convention attendees objected, fearing apparently that Jonathan would do to them what Ricky Gervais had done to the Golden Globes…or something. There was a feces-storm on Twitter with a lot of needless invective and outrage and…well, Jonathan quickly had enough of being definitely insulted by people who feared he might insult them, and he withdrew. His wife Jane — herself, a past Hugo winner — found it necessary to delete her Twitter account. Neil Gaiman summarizes the entire situation quite well here in calm, non-inflammatory terms.
Yeah, Jonathan has an abrasive sense of humor and apparently this worried some. Personally, I've also known him to have mature, sensitive taste as to the proper moments to unleash that sense o' humor and also to direct it to the proper subjects. There's a reason he's been as successful as he's been in broadcasting and I think the convention has lost a great host.
Once upon a time, I attended science-fiction conventions. I gave them up back in the late seventies, I believe, because of this kind of thing. There were a lot of good people running the cons and lot of good folks attending them but there always seemed to be a couple of controversies not unlike this one around, and just enough hysterical, angry people to generate them and keep them alive. Maybe it's not as bad as it seems but at a function that is supposed to be about camaraderie and shared passions, even a little seems like way too much.
The gossip site TMZ — which is never wrong about anything unless you count most things — is saying that NBC is telling stars that if they appear on any CBS or ABC show — and not just in late night — they will not be welcome on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon…
Sources connected to CBS, NBC and ABC tell TMZ … the Peacock network believes Jimmy Fallon's ratings success gives them extreme bargaining power. They put the word out to celebs, agents and publicists … if they want to be on Fallon they can't appear on ANY other network … and not just shows that go head-to-head with Jimmy, but morning shows as well.
The story names not one star who has been so threatened and gets no more specific on sources than to say someone at Good Morning America claims they've had trouble booking celebs because of this supposed threat. I am skeptical the charge is valid. I mean, there is a natural power that the leading show has to get guests. If you were the publicist for a new movie that was about to open, wouldn't you rather the star of it was in New York sitting down with Fallon than in Hollywood sitting down with Kimmel? Fallon has twice as many viewers and therefore, twice as many potential ticket buyers.
What you'd really like, of course, is for your star to do both but most talk shows — and especially whoever's in the lead at the moment — are uncomfy with the notion of booking guests who were on a competitor's show three days ago. Or on Good Morning America earlier that same day.
There is a story, perhaps apocryphal, that back in the late sixties or early seventies, Jerry Lewis pulled off a superfecta. That's a trifecta for four or more things. At the time, there were four major talk shows coming out of New York: Johnny Carson's, Merv Griffin's, Dick Cavett's and David Frost's. They taped at different times so Mr. Lewis, who had something to plug, allegedly managed to get on all four on the same night.
When the shows realized what had happened, they all instituted better watchdogging — some called it The Jerry Lewis Rule — to guard against guests doing things like that. In most cases, there has been no rigid rule of X days between other appearances. They'll take Denzel Washington even if he was on with the competition four days ago, whereas they might not put up with it for a lesser star.
Anyway, it's real easy for the show that loses out on a guest they want to charge Unfair Labor Practices…and the agents don't help. Imagine you represent Sam Superstar and you want him, of course, on the #1 show but you don't want to damage your relationship with the #3 show. When the #3 show calls, you say — because you're an agent and agents are supposed to do this kind of thing — "God, I wish I could book him on your show. You treat him so well and he has so much fun there. But the studio's on my butt to get him on the #1 show and you know how those bastards are over there. They're so afraid of you guys that they're putting pressure on us to not do your show. I swear, as soon as I can, I'll get him for you."
I'm not saying actual intimdiation never happens. Clearly, it does. But I think a lot of such accusations are simple: The star and/or his handlers want him on the show with the most viewers. And that's why he's on it, not because of any threats. I'd be more apt to believe the charge in this case if we heard some solid examples.
Sorry to hear of the passing of Geoff Edwards, a stalwart voice of Los Angeles radio for many years…and a very nice man. Most of you who knew of him probably knew him as a game show host but that was just a small part of what he did. He died yesterday at the age of 83 due to complications from pneumonia.
This obit will tell you a lot about Geoff, including the story of how he quit his radio show on KFI here in L.A. when a fellow broadcaster at the station conducted the equivalent of a book-burning, destroying the records of singer Cat Stevens. Before that, Edwards was on KMPC where he did what he did so well. He played records and said very funny things between them, and just made you feel comfy when you were listening.
One thing that's not in there: Edwards, like most guys in radio, hopped about from town to town and job to job for much of his early career. In one of those positions, he was a newsman in the Dallas Police Garage in November of '63 when Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald and a witness to the shooting. You can see him interviewed by other reporters in much of the news footage shot that day.
His career as a game show host began in the early seventies on local TV and then national. There was a lady named Lin Bolen in charge of Daytime Programming at NBC. In what was a controversial decision in some circles, she decided that too many of their game shows were hosted by "old men" and that housewives would rather look at younger, handsome hosts. So she scouted the country and for the new game shows she introduced, she did not hire the likes of Dennis James, Bill Cullen, Jack Narz or others who were then in that talent pool. She found "young studs" (that was the term used) and brought us Chuck Woolery, Alex Trebek…and Geoff Edwards.
Edwards hosted a pretty good new show called Jackpot! and because it was taped in New York, he had to fly back there every other week and tape two weeks of programs. The show didn't last but the experience gave him some pretty funny stories of air travel and bad taxi drivers which he told on his L.A. radio show.
Later, he hosted (and sadly, became best known for) The New Treasure Hunt, a Chuck Barris show that reveled in torturing female contestants before it told them if they'd won a "klunk" (i.e., nothing) or $25,000 or something in-between. Geoff was a much better person than that. He was also a much wittier, interesting man who could have easily — and should have — hosted a talk show or interview program. He was very well-read and able to converse on any topic.
I spoke with him a few times when I was starting out, writing jokes for Gary Owens who was also on KMPC then, and gave Edwards a few as well. I liked him on the radio and I liked him in person, so it doesn't matter much that I didn't like him on The New Treasure Hunt. That wasn't the real guy we just lost.