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.
This is another one of those audio-only lectures from U.C.L.A. It's Jack Benny speaking there in 1973. He has a little trouble at first speaking to such a young audience, especially when he starts with a joke about Kay Kyser the 40's bandleader. But Mr. Benny was a pro and he gets into the right attitude before long.
Mr. Benny went through the last decade or three of his life — even when he had a popular weekly TV series — presuming that younger people didn't know who he was. It even figured into the one brief moment when I met him. That's much of what he talks about here…
Having complained here about talk shows with near-scripted interviews, I offer an exception. Jon Stewart usually asks his guests questions they don't expect…and not in a "gotcha" manner. Sometimes, when he has a serious Conservative on, there's actually a real back-and-forth where two grown people talk like grown-ups and don't demagogue.
I link you here to the extended version of the interview he did last night on his program with former Senator Jim DeMint, who is quite the poster boy for the Tea Party movement, although I don't think that group was mentioned. The shorter version that aired on The Daily Show wasn't much but the two men spoke for more than a half hour and you might find the whole thing worth your time.
Like all of us, I've been wondering what it would be like to take Carol Channing to Disneyland. Well, we need wonder no longer. Our pal James H. Burns sent me this link to an account by someone who did just that. (I was going to title this post, "E-Tickets Are A Girl's Best Friend" but I'd be dating myself…)
It's interesting that a majority of those who oppose Gay Marriage don't know (or I guess in some cases, don't believe) that they are no longer the majority in this country. This is one of those issues that was always destined to go this way. It was never an "if" gays would be allowed to marry but how long it would take. Frankly, if I were a right-winger, I would long since have abandoned this one and invested my resources in a more winnable — and probably more important — matter.
This poll says 59% of Americans support same-sex wedlock. In a month or two, it'll probably be two-to-one. I take back everything I ever said about how this matter was better served by voters voting as opposed to court rulings, and about how long it would take some states to come around. Gay Marriage is winning in Arizona and you now have prominent Republicans in Wyoming championing it there. A friend of mine predicted last year that by the time Barack Obama leaves office, we'd have Gay Marriage in every state. I told him he was wrong; that a few would hold out forever. I'm thinking now that he may have been right.
Today (Wednesday), the guest on Stu's Show is Johnny Whitaker, who many of you probably first knew as the irresistible little boy on the 1966-1971 TV series, Family Affair, which starred Brian Keith. That's Johnny in the above photo, pretending to trim the beard of his co-star, Sebastian Cabot. I could also have put a photo up here of Johnny on the popular kid show, Sigmund and the Sea Monsters, or of Johnny in movies like Tom Sawyer or Napoleon and Samantha. And he sure guested on an awful lot of TV shows. The last time he was on with host Stu Shostak, they barely got halfway through his list of credits. Today, they tackle the other half.
Stu's Show can be heard live (almost) every Wednesday at the Stu's Show website and you can listen for free there. Webcasts start at 4 PM Pacific Time, 7 PM Eastern and other times in other climes. They run a minimum of two hours and sometimes go to three or beyond.
Shortly after a show ends, it's available for downloading from the Archives on that site. Downloads are a paltry 99 cents each and you can get four for the price of three.
The Wall Street Journal says that Ellen DeGeneres' use of a Samsung Galaxy during the Oscar telecast was product placement, paid for by Samsung.
On the question I asked earlier about the audio when Ellen was in the audience: I should have just asked my longtime pal Marc Wielage, who knows more about audio and video than anyone on this planet and maybe a few others. He wrote to me to say…
I believe Ellen had a Sanken COS-11 lav microphone in the same color as her outfit, coupled to a 250mW Lectrosonics transmitter, and they were using special processing to minimize any feedback in the audience speakers. The Dolby Theater has great acoustics, which help a lot. Ellen's mic picked up well enough that you can still hear somebody talking about 3 feet away, but not much further than that. No extra microphones were used.
That's pretty standard for award show stuff. Most likely, it would've sounded better if she had used a handheld directional mic, but they probably did whatever they could to make her comfortable.
BTW, there was a ton of missed mic-cues, mics accidentally left on, mics left up too early, and all kinds of crap. Heck, you could hear Ellen talking to the pizza guy before they came out on stage, which kinda ruined the bit.
There were a lot of audio mistakes but I kinda liked that we heard her talking to the pizza delivery fellow off-stage. I thought it added to the sense that the bit was legit.
The pizza she ordered came from Big Mama's & Papa's Pizzeria, a relatively-new chain in Southern California that has about twenty outlets. Their specialty item is a 36" pizza that's a great conversation topic for parties. I was at a party once where they brought one in — chopped into about fifty rectangular pieces — and I thought it was pretty bad pizza. But that was some time ago and since the chain is growing, I'll bet their pizza isn't always like the one we got that night.
It's interesting that she ordered from them, from a store just far enough away that the delivery person had to drive and brave the traffic around there. The Dolby Theater where the Academy Awards are done is part of the Hollywood and Highland shopping complex. There's a California Pizza Kitchen restaurant there and in the food court, a place called the Hollywood Pizzeria Express…but they were both closed, as was the whole mall, for the day of the Oscars. However, within two blocks, there's Greco's New York Pizza (which is pretty good), Andre's Pizza, Combo's Pizza and Deli, and Stefano's Two Guys From Italy.
The delivery person was a gent named Edgar Martirosyan who owns the shop, and they say he didn't know until Ellen dragged him onstage that the pizzas weren't for the writers or backstage crew and that he'd be going out there. I was suspicious because he was, in manner and dress, exactly what what you'd want in a delivery person if you set up this moment. You wouldn't want him to not be dressed like a pizza delivery person, as most I imagine are not. You'd want him to look kinda dazed and not be someone who'd try to be funny. But I'm willing to buy that they didn't pre-select him and that all was as it appeared.
Bill Maher keeps saying, as he did on his show last Friday night, that the main problem the Tea Party has with Obama is that he's black. I don't think so. I mean, there is a strong racist streak in some of them but I find it hard to believe we wouldn't be hearing all the same screeching if our president was Hillary Clinton or Joe Biden. We'd probably even be hearing that Joe Biden was secretly a Muslim born in Kenya. They just seem to hate anyone they think is on "the other team."
Hal Roach was the man who owned and ran the silent (later, sound) motion picture studio that made the best Laurel and Hardy comedies, as well as Our Gang and many others. No human being ever had his name on so many funny movies. Around 1980, I got to spend one afternoon talking with Mr. Roach in the home you'll see in this video. He died in 1992, about two months before what would have been his 101st birthday.
He was, at least during our time together, a sweet, funny man who loved to talk about his accomplishments. He also loved to tell dirty jokes and he asked me a lot of questions about "these girls today" and what it was like for a guy my age (28) in the entertainment business. I'll phrase this as nicely as I can: He wanted to know if it was possible to have sex with actresses without giving them a job or marrying them. He didn't suggest he had done either in his day but as we spoke of that and of the kind of opportunities a young man had in today's industry for financial advancement, he did start a lot of sentences with, "Boy, if was your age today…"
I wish I could tell you that I learned a lot about his studio and my two favorite performers (Stan and Ollie) but the visit was largely useless for that purpose. Without any prompting from me — because, I guess, it was among the first questions everyone asked him — he launched into a story of how Laurel and Hardy teamed up. In his life, Mr. Roach told at least six different versions of this, none of which match up to the films themselves or the truth as established through interviewers with others. The story he tells in this clip is as wrong as any of them.
This is something I discovered meeting folks of his era in the movie and cartoon businesses. They develop little stories — witty little anecdotes to tell people and especially reporters. Mel Blanc, for instance, long told a story about how when asked to come up with a voice for Porky Pig and he decided to give Porky a stutter. It worked fine for years because there was so little history written down that he could tell it in a roomful of people and no one would say, "Uh, Mr. Blanc, weren't you the second voice of Porky Pig, replacing a comedian who'd been hired because he actually stuttered?" I don't think Mel was exactly lying. He'd just simplified the truth down to make it into a shorter, more entertaining anecdote.
Roach had done the same thing with a lot of what he said. He could embellish or rearrange the truth because there were few sources around for better info…and who's going to argue with Hal Roach about how things worked on the Hal Roach lot, anyway? Still, I enjoyed the time we spent together. He was his most forthcoming and realistic when I asked him about the Our Gang comedies and about a great, great comedian who worked for him as a performer and sometimes a director, Charley Chase.
This is a 20 minute conversation with him that ends abruptly in mid-sentence. It's a bit outta-sync but it'll give you an idea about the way he was when I met him, minus the dirty jokes and sex talk. Do not believe most of what he says about how Laurel and Hardy got together…
Brian Spence just e-mailed me with an interesting theory why the Oscar ratings were better than expected: "Crummy weather covering half the country kept people inside."
You might be on to something, Brian.