Thursday, May 21, 2015

Diversity and Disney's TOMORROWLAND

If you have kids -- especially girls -- 14 years of age or younger, this new Disney feature will be fun weekend family entertainment with them.  The special effects are dazzling and there's plenty of action.  At its heart, TOMORROWLAND shows kids that they have the chance to change the present and improve the future if they use their imagination in a positive way.  That's a great message.  However, Disney missed a great chance to embrace diversity in the lead role female casting.  The leading man is George Clooney.  The movie opens with Clooney in a close-up alone on screen talking to the audience.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with having to look at the face of George Clooney.
As his character talks about the mess today's world is in with wars, poverty, global warming and such, he's interrupted by an off-screen young female voice.  She wants to present a brighter view of things.  They bicker in a friendly way.  He's a lovable grouch.  We then go back in time to 1964 and see Frank (Clooney's character) as a little boy arriving at the World's Fair.  Something extraordinary and unexplainable happens.  He has a jetpack he invented.  Frank's a boy-genius and this jetpack flies him through the air.  He and it are noticed by a little girl.  I was wondering what parents would let their youngster go to a World's Fair alone on a bus whether he's a boy-genius or not.  Frank notices the little girl.  She smiles at him.  He follows her on one of the Disneyland-like boat rides.  The boat sails him into an alternate universe.  Say "hello" to Tomorrowland.  He's got his jetpack.  He's got colossal robots trying to confiscate it.  And, yes, I'm still wondering if Frank's parents realize that their kid has not come home for dinner.

Then we jump to the modern-day story of Casey.  She was the off-screen female voice who interrupted grumpy grown-up Frank in the opening scene.  She lives with her dad, an out of work NASA genius and, we guess, a widower.  She's a smart girl who wants to change things for the better -- even if that means getting in trouble with social protest type of activity.  The transition from young Frank's story to her story is clunky.  But she will find a magic pin that will transport her instantly to Tomorrowland.  When these experiences happen, she can be in two places at the same time.  For instance, she's in the car with her hot papa (played by country music star Tim McGraw) but, when she touches the pin, she's magically whizzing through a futuristic wheat field while her dad sees her still seated next to him in the car.  Casey will have thrilling, dangerous adventures as she goes back and forth from ordinary life to Tomorrowland.  She wears her dad's red NASA cap during these adventures.  The main thing is the pin.  When she gets that, she gets chased by killer robots in human form.  She also gets saved by the little girl who smiled at young Frank and prompted him to take a strange boat ride at the World's Fair.  She hasn't aged since 1964.  That's because Athena (played by Raffey Cassidy) is a robot in little girl form.  Athena was young Frank's big love in the 1960s.

Casey needs to find Frank.  Athena needs to help.  And Frank is now middle-aged and cynical because he was kicked out of Tomorrowland in his youth.  Athena still holds a special place in his frustrated heart.  This is why the film needs fabulous special effects and lots of action --- because the story is awkwardly written and directed.  The studio obviously had make sure the film didn't come off like a Disney version of Lolita when modern day Frank sees little Athena.  And this story is much too complicated a way to tell youngsters that global warming is bad.  George Clooney keeps it grounded.  He brings a certain world weariness to older Frank without making him sour.  After all, this is a Disney feature.  He's funny and fun to watch.  The chase scenes are exciting and he knows how to make older Frank's scenes with Athena tender without seeming creepy.  You can also tell that he believes in the ultimate message of the feature.  Here's a trailer.
Now let's talk diversity.  The non-aging Athena sounds like a little Mary Poppins.  She has a British accent.  She can be stern and direct.  Casey is another spunky young blonde who comes to us from under the Disney corporate umbrella.  Look at Elsa from Frozen, the star of Disney's recent live action remake of Cinderella, the lead female character on ABC/Disney's Once Upon a Time  series (a fantasy series that repurposes characters from Disney classics)...even look at Kelly Ripa, the co-host of Disney daytime TV hit, Live with Kelly and Michael.  Disney is the parent company of ABC.  Count the number of blondes as anchors and contributors on Good Morning America.  Britt Robertson does a fine job as Casey in Tomorrowland.
But Casey did not have to be blonde. Or Caucasian. She could've been a brunette Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Dominican...she could've been African-American or she could've been Asian-American.  Such diverse casting would've been a welcomed Disney sight nowadays.  Elsa from the huge 2013 hit, Frozen, already had a short feature sequel.  I saw it paired with this year's Cinderella.  How many sequels or live action remakes have we seen for Disney's Asian heroine Mulan (1998) or for Disney's first African-American princess, Tiana, seen in The Princess and The Frog (2009)?

One Tomorrowland  highlight is the very funny Keegan Michael-Key as Hugo.
He's half of the award-winning Key & Peele team on Comedy Central.  Keegan has got the gift.  He doesn't even need dialogue to break you up laughing.  He's only in this movie for about ten minutes but he's a talent that Disney should tap for lead roles.  If the company continues to repurpose/remake its classics like The Absent-Minded Professor and Son of Flubber, he's the guy for the lead roles.  He's perfect for Disney features.

For a Disney feature, Tomorrowland has some un-Disneylike violent images.  What appears to be a child getting run over by a pickup truck on a being shot at...dismembered body parts....we get that in Tomorrowland.

There's a touch of The Terminator about this screenplay and a little bit of Big tossed into a bowl of Kim Possible episodes from the Disney Channel.  Disney's Tomorrowland   was directed by Brad Bird.  He gave us the animated features The Incredibles, Ratatouille and Iron Giant.  Those stories flowed better than this one.  But, as I wrote, children 14 and under will dig it.  Tomorrowland runs 2 hours and 10 minutes.  That's a good half-hour longer than it needs to be.  The movie ends with a most optimistic montage that looks more like an upscale credit card commercial.

If anything, it's a commercial to inspire kids use their skills and talents to join Team Disney where anything's possible.  But, if the company's consistent casting in big screen releases implies that young blondes get the spotlight and special treatment, can young girls of color really feel that anything's possible for them?  They need to see a reflection of themselves in the spotlight as the special female.

Just a thought from a longtime Disney fan.  Tomorrowland opens May 22nd.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Letterman Leaves LATE SHOW

I've been watching him since he was on early in the morning.  Many full time and not-so-full time media critics will be analyzing the late night TV magic David Letterman had for decades.  It started on NBC then transferred to CBS.  This blog post of mine is written as a viewer and a longtime fan.  I will miss him.
I started laughing out loud at David Letterman during my days at my first professional television job.  I worked at the ABC affiliate in Milwaukee on the city's edition of PM Magazine.  I also did appearances on the station's live afternoon shows.  When we got to the PM Magazine offices early in the morning for work, we'd watch Letterman's short-lived morning show.  Our little ragtag Midwest crew really dug his loopy sense of humor.  His elevator races were a hoot.  We fully recognized the Midwest vibe underneath the on-camera goofiness, a goofiness the edged more into brashness during his NBC years.  I was still working in Milwaukee when NBC gave Dave Late Night with David Letterman.  That show quickly became required viewing for all us young professionals.  Heck, back in those days, we could actually stay up late without nodding off.  He was in our age group.  He was younger than the Elder Statesman of Late Night,  the renowned Johnny Carson.  Letterman did his monologues wearing a jacket, tie...and sneakers.  He had a gap-toothed smile and his tall frame was topped with a generous amount of curly hair.                                                                                                                              
His material was different and fresh -- a bit on the smart aleck-y college boy side -- his band was groovy and hip and his segments were wacky in their originality.  Stupid Pet Tricks made my nights!  So did Stupid Human Tricks.  And his "Top Ten" lists were priceless.  When it came to his guests...he could be fun with Carol Channing.  He could be a terrific straight man to a very animated and funny Bette Davis in her latter years.
And he could knock young stars off-balance by saying something we viewers would be thinking but never expected a late night host to say.  Remember the exotic-looking Natassja Kinski when she starred in movies such as Tess and the remake of Cat People?  She was a guest on his NBC show.  She'd been given a piled up, hipster hair style.  Letterman asked, "Is that your hair or do you have a barn owl on your head?"  She was not amused.  I laughed so hard my sides ached.

That's what I meant about the brashness.  He wasn't easy on stars simply because they were stars.  That was Letterman's trademark then.  He was still at NBC when I was new to New York City.  Stars would be nervous before going onto his show.  How do I know?  They'd say so to me in our green room.  Several times celebrities came to VH1 to tape interviews for my talk show and they'd remark "I have to do Letterman's show later today" and they'd say that with the same dread as a 7th grader saying "I have to go to the principal's office."  Tony Danza moaned the most.  He really hoped that Dave would be nice to him.  Cher got bleeped for casually calling Dave "an asshole" on the show  Shirley MacLaine casually repeated Cher's sentiments.  His brashness would be replaced by a maturity because life knocks you around as yet get older.  He grew out of the brash smart aleck phase and into more of an informed, embraceable curmudgeon.  And we watched him get older over the years.  Just like we viewers did, he experienced workplace disappointment, sexual immaturity, health problems, love, death, changes in family life and aging.  We watched him flop.  Remember when he hosted the Oscars?  I started watching David Letterman when he was the new kid on the late night block.  This week, I heard a reporter refer to him as the "elder statesman" of late night hosts.  For us baby boomers, Dave reflects our growing older and our life experiences.
I really wanted Dave to succeed Johnny Carson on the Tonight show.  I was stunned when he wasn't selected and Jay Leno got the gig.  Probably not nearly as stunned as Dave was by NBC's decision.  His disappointment made me even more of a fan.  I, in my own way, knew the feeling.  I was blessed with an A-list roster of guests for my VH1 weeknight talk show.  After my wonderful VH1 years, I was approached to be a regular on a new WNBC weekend morning news program.  I'd do celebrity interviews, film reviews, and humorous human interest features.  That appealed to me.  I'll admit it, in taking that part-time weekend gig, my goal was to be so good that I'd be promoted to doing entertainment features and interviews for the network's weekend Today show.  Our local show premiered in the fall of 1992.  Management changed my duties in the show's first week and assigned me a steady beat as the "wacky" correspondent in the field.  That meant doing live segments from shopping malls and street fairs.  The film review spots disappeared and I had to push to do occasional celebrity interviews.  It was as if I'd never hosted a national TV talk show that got me excellent reviews from The New York Times, People magazine and TV Guide.  But I was under contract and did the work.  In December 1995, management told me that I was doing quality work and I was very popular with viewers.  However, I'd no longer be under contract, I'd only be working two days a week -- just weekends -- and I would not be moving up to any network opportunities.  One more thing:  If I was offered any other on-camera work during the week -- such as TV commercials or small acting roles that could bring me in extra income to supplement my part-time TV wages -- I'd need WNBC's approval to accept the work.  Even though I was not under contract.  (You can see samples of my VH1 talk show work here:

I gave two weeks notice and quit in January 1995.  Yes, I understood Dave's disappointment at 30 Rock.  I was thrilled when he relocated to CBS.  His gifts, his hard work that made comedy look easy, had been validated, appreciated and highlighted.  And his artistic gifts grew.  A Kennedy Center Honor was bestowed upon him for his intelligent and innovative comedy.  Our President made guest appearances on his show.

I watched David Letterman at night from the days of my first professional TV job at a local station in Milwaukee, my days as a national talk show host for VH1 and my days of disappointment in the same building for the same corporation for which Dave worked.  I've watched him from when I found true love to when I lost my love to AIDS in 1994.  I watched Dave when he returned to work in the days following our enormous September 11th tragedies.  Those shows displayed Dave at his respectful, mature, tender-hearted best.  When he felt comfortable to make us laugh again, I felt ready to laugh again.  He helped heal millions of broken hearts in the TV audience.

We watched him through major changes in television, in our society and in the world around us.  I've continued to watch him over the last few years as I attempt to revive a career and rejoin the workplace.  I was hit hard and rendered unemployed by The Great Recession.  Like Dave, I'm older now too.  And still in need of a laugh.
I have a feeling that David Letterman has been to many like a friend or family relative we really do love but don't always make time for.  He's that friend we'd call at the last minute to cancel and postpone, the friend we'd call at the last minute if we couldn't find a more fabulous date, the relative whom we knew whose birthday we could forget because he or she was always understanding.  You assume that friend or relative will always be around.  When you're hit with the reality the person is leaving, you're driven to make up for lost quality time.  You realize how special that person really is.  This week, millions of folks probably returned to the Late Show on CBS because this was its last week.  They loved Dave but hadn't been paying attention to his show in a long, long while.

I've never met Mr. Letterman.  But I stood close to him in the NBC lobby by an elevator once as he chatted with Bob Costas.  I've had tickets to a few tapings of Letterman's show.  However, he did mention some of my past work in one of his monologues.  In between my VH1 and WNBC years, I was the host of a syndicated late night summer replacement game show.  It was called Bedroom Buddies.  I had a great time with a great crew taping that awful show in Los Angeles.  The show was like a very low-rent version of The Newlywed Game -- only the couples weren't married.  I did my best with that cheesy material because the gig, quite honestly, helped me pay off some bills.

I was told that Letterman mentioned seeing Bedroom Buddies.  He did not say my name but he reportedly did say Bedroom Buddies "...marks the end of civilization as we know it."

It was a bad show.  But I take comfort in the fact that both David Letterman and I have lived long enough to see even worse shows premiere on network television.  Some even in prime time.

So long, David Letterman. I'm gonna miss you.  A lot.  Thanks for the laughs when I really needed them.

Monday, May 18, 2015


Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, Martin Sheen and Sam Waterston.  Four acting pros having fun on Netflix.  A few nights ago, a dear friend invited me to binge-watch four episodes of the new sitcom, GRACE AND FRANKIE.  What a surprise!  Man, did I enjoy those shows and the performances.  Yes, we focus on four people who are well into their AARP years.  But I saw an episode of NBC's Undateable recently. Oy.  Grace and Frankie felt fresher than NBC's rehash of a Friends-type sitcom with a group of 30-somethings in Detroit.  It's a sitcom set in Detroit and there's only one black person in the cast of regulars.  Are you kidding me, NBC?  Grace and Frankie were certainly fresher and funnier than either of the Kevin Hart movie comedies I had to endure this year for film review purposes.  In this Netflix original production starring two actresses in their 70s, Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin play rivals who share a beach house in Southern California.                                              
Their husbands have been partners in a law firm for years.  Now they're taking the partnership to a different, intimate level.  One that involves possible marriage.  Yes, their husbands have come out.  The ladies get the news while both couples are at dinner.
That's not a spoiler.  It's the first five minutes of the premiere episode.  The irony of this tense and funny restaurant scene is that Frankie, a liberal earth mother type who's aghast to hear that her husband is gay and in love with another man, is played by an openly lesbian actress who recently married her partner of 42 years.  Frankie wears shoes that look like they were made by an 8th grade at summer camp.  Sophisticated and image-conscious Grace doesn't take the news very well either.  She's designed her life to be like one long piece of linen -- a material that travels well and doesn't wrinkle.  All four lives are now different.  The women go through feelings of shock, anger and denial.                                      
Grace and Frankie must put their rivalry in the closet and share the beach house while their soon-to-be-ex-hubands start a new life together and share a bed.
Here are four actors who were in some of the most significant and well-received films of the 1970s and 80s.  Jane Fonda won Best Actress Oscars for Klute (1971) and Coming Home (1978).  Lily Tomlin was a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nominee for Nashville (1975).  Sam Waterston was a Best Actor Oscar nominee for The Killing Fields (1984).  Martin Sheen has never been nominated for an Oscar but  he's got Badlands (1975) and Apocalypse Now (1979) to his film credits.  Sheen has won an Emmy and a Golden Globe nominations for playing President Bartlett on TV's West Wing.
I've written before how much I wish ABC would revive its Movie of the Week series from the 1970s.  Some of those original made-for-TV movies were pleasantly cheesy but there were also strong 90-minute network features that were just as good as new movies we got on the big screen.  I loved Duel, a road thriller from a young new director named Steven Spielberg, the football biopic tearjerker Brian's Song, the revenge murder mystery comedy called The Girl Most Likely To...,written by Joan Rivers, Dr. Cook's Garden with Bing Crosby giving one of the last and best performances of his career as a twisted and dangerous doctor, and the groundbreaking That Certain Summer.  It was a 1972 drama about a gay father coming out to his teen son.  Hal Holbrook starred as the divorced dad who moved from L.A. to San Francisco.  He's happy and in a relationship with a good man played by Martin Sheen.  This was controversial, mature material for TV movies.

If I could interview Martin Sheen (on the right in the above color photo), I sure would ask him about social changes and progress since that feature premiered on ABC in 1972.

Sheen plays Grace's husband, Robert.  We've seen Sam Waterston for years as a no-nonsense character on Law & Order.  In a rare and refreshing comedy role, Waterston stars as Sol, the man who must leave Frankie because he's fallen in love with Robert on Grace and Frankie.  We see the sweet two senior males kiss.  We see them in bed.
Sheen (on the right again in the above color photo) couldn't go that far when we played half of a gay male couple back in 1972.  Back then, actors could not come out, marry a significant other and keep getting work in film and TV.  Now gay actors play straight characters and gay actors play straight characters.  This is like a full circle role for Sheen to play on television.  And he plays it so very well.  You see him as a man who has come to the truth about himself, wants to do the right thing in a non-combative way divorce-wise, and has a new light in his eyes as he finds a new life and a new love in his later years.  Heck, I got a serious man-crush on him watching those four episodes.
As for Fonda and Tomlin, we loved them together when they had comedy chemistry in a big box office hit from 1980.  9 to 5 co-starred Dolly Parton.
They've still got chemistry.  Their 1980 film comedy tackled feminism and equality in the workplace.  Those were issues of the day.  Woven into the loopy fabric of Grace and Frankie are serious issues of senior citizens being ignored and treated as if they're invisible in society, fear of growing old alone, the need for love, dating and trying to remain relevant for today's workplace employment consideration.
An older woman's sexuality is also addressed.  Fonda gets a hot, steamy, sexy kiss in one episode from a hot, steamy, sexy man in her own age category.  And Grace makes 70 look great.  I totally dig what Martin Sheen is doing with his character and I never thought I'd see Sam Waterston get laughs playing someone so huggable.
Four characters starting over.  This may not be the best sitcom I've seen in a few years, but Grace and Frankie certainly deserves thanks to executive producers Fonda and Tomlin.  They've boldly slapped down Hollywood ageism and embraced racial diversity with their sitcom's casting of friends and relatives.  With laughs, they show that actors and viewers over 60 are still vital and should not be ignored.  Give Grace and Frankie a look.  I think you'll enjoy it.

Friday, May 15, 2015


He is one of the most brilliant, gifted actors we've seen for decades.  Yet many didn't know his name and many didn't even know what he looked like.  He's been the puppeteer inside the tall, yellow. feathery and lovable icon from TV's Sesame Street.  Caroll Spinney, an Air Force veteran, gave life, movement and voice to Big Bird.
Is there more man in the bird or more bird in the man?  You'll see that the two are practically one.  This actor loves and is the characters he plays.
I AM BIG BIRD: THE CAROLL SPINNEY STORY runs only about 90 minutes, a documentary like children's programming at its best.  It's simple, direct, well-paced, entertaining and it has a fondness for its audience.  Much of footage is old, but that's fine.  We see the early years of Spinney and what turned him into the famous, beloved TV character he's been playing.  His story covers childhood, young adulthood, employment, love, divorce, love again, death in the workplace family and aging.  First of all, you will be wowed to see the amount of complicated physical toil -- gadgetry included -- that has gone into giving a performance inside that costume.  His playing Big Bird equals what many actors have discovered about children's theater.  It's not as easy as it looks.
Spinney, now a dapper gent in his 80s, speaks with wit, gratitude, affection and honesty.  We hear about his angers and his loves.  We hear about his trials and tribulations.
He is the only person ever to play Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch on Sesame Street.  He's done so since 1969.  Here's a trailer for I Am Big Bird:  The Caroll Spinney Story.
This man has given joy and education to youngsters for a long, long time.  He's taken Big Bird to other countries.  His love of his craft started when he was a boy and saw a puppet show.  His mother realized his love of that art and supported it.  One person in the documentary describes his mother as "...a huggable lady.  She was fun."  Spinney added, "She was a great mom."  His father was the opposite.  His dad, like mine, had a bad temper that would put young Caroll in physical and emotional pain.  Parents.  Sometimes they just forget they're bigger than their kids are.  Caroll grew up and found happiness in the Air Force.

When he was pursuing his artistic passion and landed work, he was married.  Married and involved with The Muppets.  But his wife never watched, respected and praised his quality work.  They divorced after 11 years of marriage.

But Caroll Spinney found true love the second time around.  They are still together and still very much in love.  We meet his wife in the documentary too.  Debra is delightful.
And, or course, there's talk of another person he loved. We all did.  He calls Jim Henson "a true genius."  Bird singing at Jim Henson's funeral will break your heart.
Your heart will be touched by the love story that runs through the feature.  That love story is the one between Caroll and his wife.  I never realized the extent and longevity of his artistry.  And he performed under grueling circumstances.  Wait until you see him as Big Bird in China.  That was not an easy shoot.  He is one committed and professional actor.  Like Oscar winning performers, he came up with the voices and physicality for his characters.   In this doc, we also see that children's programming is fun for kids to watch.  However, behind the scenes, it's still a business.  A business that employs talented people with egos and tempers.  People who get ticked off and occasionally drop a word that's more 42nd Street than Sesame Street.

Caroll Spinney was bullied by kids in his youth who thought he was gay.  He's a person who didn't have a totally happy childhood, but he chose not to go through life as an angry man because of it.  He's given millions and millions of children -- many now grown -- the kind of happiness he didn't get from one parent.  He's given them the attention he didn't get from one spouse.  He has added light to the world around him.  There are lessons in this documentary for everyone.  He reminds us all who've felt or do feel emotionally beaten down and at a low point that "...the sun will eventually come out for you."

I Am Big Bird:  The Caroll Spinney Story put tears in my eyes.  It's very moving.

Check to see if this feature is playing at an arthouse movie theater in your vicinity.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015


He's the big papa bear-looking guy who does a riff on the Hot Pockets commercial jingle that always breaks me up.  He lives in Brooklyn.  He's a comedian.  His material is clean.  He makes babies.  He's a family man with kids.  And he's my kind o' Catholic.
THE JIM GAFFIGAN SHOW premiere episode made me giggle a lot.  There was a couple of big belly laughs.  The theme of the episode was how much a hot topic religion can be.  It may not have left me doubled over with laughter like the premiere episodes of Modern Family and Louie did a few years ago, but it did win me over.  In the first two minutes of the show, we saw what we rarely see represented on network television in prime time.  Black Catholics!  I'm one.  I come from a black Roman Catholic family.  I attended a parochial high school and had black priests as teachers.  But you rarely see us on TV.  In the first three minutes, there's Gaffigan with the black priest in his church.  He stops by the see the priest because Mrs. Gaffigan, his wife, asked him to pick up the heirloom bible that the priest had for her.  Jim really doesn't want to pick up the bible because he's on his way to work -- on his way to a Manhattan comedy club.  He says,  "The church is open at night?  Like Taco Bell?"  He really doesn't want to be lugging around a Holy Bible that weights the same as a pair of newborn twins.  And he doesn't want to take it into a club where the air will be peppered with naughty words.  The next thing you know, he's with Chris Rock (dropping the F-bomb) and pretending the huge book on his lap is a hardcover edition of Moby Dick.

A photo of Gaffigan clutching a Bible winds up in The Huffington Post next to a photo of Miley Cyrus' tongue.  Just the appearance of that photo sends out a certain message.  He gets positive attention.  Even the White House notices him.  The comedian is then offered an enormous amount of money to be a commercial spokesperson for a certain product.  He turns down the money because the company is anti-gay marriage.

That sends out another message.  The TV press takes the story and runs with it -- in all sorts of wrong directions.  Comedy ensues with lots of guest cameo appearances.
I like Gaffigan's persona.  This was a warm, appealing show and presents his stand-up comedy persona in a comfortable way.  How does Jim get through all this mess of trying to be a liberal Catholic dad and make a good income to take care of his family?  How does he get folks to stop thinking he's a closeted gay man who rejected the Bible?  You can watch the episode and see.  For the rest of this month, it's available for free viewing.  Go here:
Adam Goldberg co-stars as his bearded Jewish comedian buddy, Dave Marks.  It's a smart move to keep him as a supporting player.  When Goldberg is the lead in a romantic comedy, his hipster act can grate on you.  2 Days in Paris had him as the male lead.  His non-stop NYC brand of neuroses seemed very 1980s and grew tiresome in the 2007 comedy movie co-starring, written and directed by Julie Delpy.  2 Days in New York, Delpy's follow-up starring a subdued Chris Rock, was much smoother and charming.  There's a little of Goldberg in the premiere episode and the little is just the right amount.
To Goldberg's comedian character, I must say this:  "Bite me, Marks!  Actor Ed Harris is hot!  He's over 50 and hotter than you!" Just look.

OK.  I got that out of my system.  You'll understand when you see the episode.  Overall, it was an entertaining episode.  Gaffigan's show has a slight retro feel about it.  A sitcom about a married family man entertainer in New York who leaves at night to go work in a club is not new.  Desi Arnaz did it on I Love Lucy and Danny Thomas did it on The Danny Thomas Show both back in the 1950s  I'm interested to see how this project develops Gaffigan's character.  And it was great to see a black Catholic priest blended into the Catholic family man's life.  I have a feeling this show will have some fresh elements in it, like Gaffigan's laid back, liberal Catholicism.  But it probably won't  be complicated with razor-sharp revealing humor like Louis C.K.'s Louie.  Not right away, anyway.

July 15th is when The Jim Gaffigan Show starts its residency on TV Land.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Rock On, Meryl Streep

RICKI AND THE FLASH has Meryl Streep as a rock mama who focused more on her music career than on her family.  The time has come to change that.                                                                                                                                    
To me, this 60-something actress is an inspiration and a role model.  Love me some Meryl Streep.  I pray I can interview her if she grants interviews for this new movie.  She's a role model because of her perseverance and her dedication to her work.  She takes risks. She takes on challenges.  She's played women and a man.  In her early film career, she dazzled critics with her dramatic talents and her gift for accurate foreign accents in productions such as The French Lieutenant's Woman, Sophie's Choice, Out of Africa and A Cry in the Dark.  Then, like Irene Dunne in the 1930s, she switched from the heavy drama and showed us her sublime knack for comedy.  I loved Postcards from the Edge and Defending Your Life, two films in which Shirley MacLaine also appeared.  Her cheesey opening musical number as the vain Broadway star in Death Becomes Her breaks me the heck up.

When we baby boomers were kids, we saw the famous and fiercely independent Katharine Hepburn on   The Dick Cavett Show. The long-unwed 4-time Best Actress Oscar winner said that it would be extremely difficult to raise a family and focus on an acting career.  That's why she had no children.  I'm sure that statement made a great impact on many of us who were considering some kind of career as performers.  Well, Meryl came along and proved that you could not only have a family and a film acting career, you could become the actor-mom with the most nominations of any performer in Oscar history.  Meryl Streep has 19 Oscar nominations to her credit. I'm pretty sure that our Supreme Court will soon make it a law that she gets an Oscar nomination every year for the rest of her life whether she makes a film or not.
When I was new to television, Meryl Streep gave my career its first big boost.  She's won her first Oscar, a Best Supporting Actress Award, for 1979's Kramer vs. Kramer.  She graced the cover of Time.  It's still one of my all-time favorite Time magazine covers.
I was a weekly contributor on Milwaukee's edition of the syndicated weekday show, PM Magazine.  I did movie reviews and family entertainment features once a week.  Celebrity interviews were what  I wanted to do and I was given the opportunity.  I was one of ten TV people selected to interview her one afternoon in New York City.  She was promoting her new film, Sophie's Choice.  Why only ten?  She was pregnant with first child and got hit with occasional nausea.  Understandably, she requested to keep her schedule short.  I was nervous and excited on that flight to New York City to do the interview.  Her performance as the Polish survivor of a Nazi concentration camp was extraordinary.  I was in awe of her.

Here's a trailer for Sophie's Choice co-starring Kevin Kline.
She gave me a wonderful interview.  Streep was smart, witty, down-to-earth.  One question the New Jersey native liked a lot regarded her upcoming parenthood.  Actresses who have children are constantly asked how they can balance motherhood and a career.  I asked Meryl Streep why actors who become fathers aren't asked the same thing.  Our interview aired nationally.  Not only that one.  I'd interviewed Jessica Lange who made history with two Oscar nominations in the same year.  She was in the Best Actress race for Frances.  She was in the Best Supporting Actress Oscar race --and won -- for Tootsie.  I'd also interviewed screen newcomer Ben Kingsley, who won Best Actor for Gandhi, and Sir Richard Attenborough.  Attenborough won Best Director for Gandhi and the biopic was voted Best Picture of 1982.

All those interviews of mine aired in a special PM Magazine Countdown to the Oscars week.  I still say that Meryl brought me luck.  I was the only African-American male seen nationally doing celebrity interviews on PM Magazine in those days.

This summer, we'll see Meryl Streep rock out in Ricki and the Flash.  Kevin Kline, her Sophie's Choice co-star, plays her husband.  The first time I interviewed Meryl, she was pregnant with her first child.  She was still pregnant when she won the Oscar for Sophie's Choice.  That child is now her co-star in Ricki and the Flash.  Meryl Streep and Mamie Gummer, real-life mother and daughter, play mother and  daughter in this new movie.  Here's a trailer.
The second time I interviewed Meryl Streep, I was in New York City and had my own talk show on VH1.  I got to do half-hour with her during her promotional junket for A Cry in the Dark -- the drama many folks think is called A Dingo Ate My Baby.  In one publication, I'd read an item saying that Streep had been greatly influenced by Liza Minnelli's acting technique when she saw Minnelli on Broadway in a Kander & Ebb musical called The Act.
Liza's 1977 musical production was directed by Martin Scorcese.  She won a Best Actress Tony award for her performance as the fading Hollywood star who attempts a comeback with a Vegas nightclub act.

In my 1988 VH1 talk show interview, I asked Meryl Streep about the Minnelli influence.
I've been nominated for one award in my long broadcast career.  I got a CableACE Award nomination for Best TV Interviewer.  That Meryl Streep interview on my old VH1 show is one that got me the nomination.  She brought me luck again.  I lost the award to Larry King but, yes, it was an honor just to be nominated.

The next time I saw La Streep was quite memorable.  I was the host of a celebrity awards luncheon in midtown Manhattan.  Not only she was one of the special guests, present to receive an award, I got to sit right next to her and have lunch before we started the ceremony.  Wow!  She had me belly laughing with comments and she treated me like we were old college chums.  Look at the expression at my face seconds after I was seated.  I could not believe I was placed next to film greatness.
Her 1998 drama, Dancing at Lughnasa, was soon to open.  In it, she played a working class Irish woman in 1930s Ireland.  At that 1998 luncheon, she was a funny New Jersey native who not only remembered my previous interviews of her, she complimented me on my TV performance.

This was at a time in which I felt a lull in my career.  Network executives of morning TV news programs, CBS Sunday Morning being one, would not consider me for entertainment contributor work.  Broadcast agents would not take me on as a client.  I'd been a good worker for four years on a local morning TV news show, however my contract had been renewed for less money that year.  Quite a bit less.  I stayed because I needed the job.  But, one sweet afternoon, I was validated by Meryl Streep.  She made me laugh.  And she inspired me to make a career change.

I will never forget that.  And I will be eternally grateful.  Rock on, Meryl Streep!  I hope we can meet again.