Monday, August 31, 2009

Jessica's Savage Update

It took over a decade for Jessica Savitch to make a name for herself in television journalism, and about sixty seconds to ruin it. Three weeks later, she was dead and never got a chance to redeem herself.

Time again to recall another gone too soon, as I thought of TV people from the past while watching all of the coverage of Ted Kennedy's death over the weekend.

Savitch was a Philadelphia girl who made good in local TV news in Philly. In fact, she was, for a time, a co-anchor in the City of Brotherly Love with Mort Crim , who would eventually co-own Detroit news, along with Bill Bonds.

Savitch was, as is the case of most females on the tube, an attractive blonde. But she combined brains with that cheesecake, and was much more of a cerebral on-air personality than a bubblehead.

Eventually, her career outgrew Philadelphia and Savitch ended up on NBC News. This was in the late-1970s. Her star power was such that she became anchor of the weekend version of the NBC Nightly News by the early-1980s.

Savitch published an autobiography, "Anchorwoman," in 1982.

An old publicity photo of Jessica Savitch. Note the different (wrong?) spelling of her last name

But there was trouble in her life, far beyond what we could see while watching her on our TVs.

She had a stormy 10-year relationship with a man who wasn't her husband---a news director named Ron Kershaw. Savitch's first marriage ended after just 10 months. Next, Jessica had an affair with a man who turned out to be a closet homosexual.

It gets worse.

Her next marriage, to Donald Payne in early-1981, was tumultuous and during it, she suffered a miscarriage. As if that wasn't enough, Payne hanged himself on August 1, 1981 in the couple's basement.

Rumors swirled that Savitch was taking drugs to help her through life, which wouldn't have been surprising, given her personal soap opera.

On October 3, 1983, those rumors appeared to have a great deal of truth to them.

While doing a sixty-second between-shows update on NBC called the NBC News Digest, Savitch was a mess. She slurred her speech, seemed to have difficulty reading the script, and her eyes started to droop by the end of the update. It was, at once, shocking, creepy, and sad.

You can view her horrific performance by clicking HERE.

The Digest debacle, had it happened during the age of the Internet, would have been explosive and one of the most virulent pieces of video ever. As it was, it was still notorious, despite it occurring in 1983. NBC didn't put Jessica on the air after that, even though she tried to explain away her performance as being a result of mixing (legal) medications and being fatigued.

As it was, those gruesome sixty seconds would be her last turn in front of a camera, and that's too bad, because Jessica Savitch was a damn good newswoman.

Less than three weeks after the Digest appearance, Jessica had dinner in New Hope, Pennsylvania with Martin Fischbein, the vice president of The New York Post.

The weather was inclement---rainy and windy---and Fischbein may have missed posted warning signs as he drove out of the wrong exit from the restaurant and up the towpath of a canal on the Pennsylvania side of the Delaware River. The car veered too far to the left and went over the edge into the shallow water of the canal. After falling approximately fifteen feet and landing upside down, the station wagon sank into deep mud which sealed the doors shut.

Savitch and Fischbein both perished, having drowned in the vehicle, unable to exit it.

Jessica Savitch was 36 years old.

Savitch's estate was awarded over $8 million in a wrongful death action. Some of the money was used to set up college scholarships. The Jessica Savitch Distinguished Journalism lecture series is held at her alma mater, Ithaca College.

In a stroke of cruel irony, Savitch once said the following.

"A press card does not provide you with an invisible shield. You're flesh and blood."

How right she was---in more ways than one.

Friday, August 28, 2009


In this day of rising inflation, I suppose it only makes sense that companies no longer nickel-and-dime you to death. Some are quartering you to the grave.

Take fast food giants Burger King and McDonald's, for example.

Apparently we're all a bunch of dipping sauce packet abusers, for BK and Mickey D's are beginning to place us on rations.

Yes, despite the economy being in the toilet and other fast food players such as the submarine sandwich industry engaging in pricing wars, Burger King and McDonald's are having some fun at our expense.

Next time you order some Chicken McNuggets or Chicken Fries or anything that requires dipping sauce, look for a handwritten or half-typed, half-handwritten sign near the drive-thru window or the counter.

It'll tell you how many dipping sauce packets you get, free of charge, based on what you've ordered and the size, along with what it'll cost you to dare ask for more.

No joke.

Dipping sauce packets are tiny things, perhaps no more than an ounce, ounce-and-a-half in size. Sometimes you can barely fit your processed food into the little tub, truth be told.

They can't possibly cost more than a few pennies each to produce.

Yet BK and McD's wants to charge us a quarter (!) for each packet that exceeds the limit that they've mandated.

Twenty-five cents?!

First, is there really such an abuse of the dipping sauce packet supply that we need to be rationing? It's not like they're freely available to the paying customers, like the hot sauce at Taco Bell---who, by the way, couldn't care less how many you pilfer. Good for them.

We've always had to ask for dipping sauce at BK and McD's, even before the rationing. And, frankly, usually the reason you would ask was so that you would get some to begin with!

How many times are the sauces left out of your bag? How many times do the cheerful employees forget to ask you if you'd like dipping sauce?

You're looking at 50 cents!

The sauce distribution at McD's was always curiously miserly to me. They were treated like gold nuggets. It was almost as if the folks working there hoped you'd forget about them, because they sure didn't go out of their way to remind you.

Sometimes they'll ask, but I notice that they ask more now that they've put us all on rations.

So you'd think that BK would want to get the upper hand on McD's. Well, not the location near where I live.

Yesterday I saw that the BK on 12 Mile in Madison Heights is now putting us on dipping sauce rations, too. Instead of doing the opposite---proudly declaring, "NO LIMIT on dipping sauces!"---thus gaining a competitive edge, that location is getting in on the gouging.

Think about this for a moment. Each of these dumb-dumbs have a dollar menu, from which you can order various things, including a cheeseburger. So is one dipping sauce worth 1/4 of a burger?

I wouldn't be so cranky about it if BK and McD's had been vigilant in the past about providing sauce and asking if you'd like some. Or if they had been providing it in full view, a la Taco Bell, and folks were taking 10, 11 at a time.

So depending on the size of the item you've ordered, you'll be afforded one (or two) dipping sauce packets, tops. Anything beyond that? Twenty-five cents seems to be the going rate, per packet.

Maybe if the packets were larger, or if it hadn't been such a teeth-pulling exercise to get them at all in the past, then maybe we wouldn't be asking for so many.

And how can there have been an abuse of an item that has always had to be requested?

The submarine sandwich people are falling all over themselves right now, offering $5 foot-long subs and, in the case of Quizno's, even cheaper sandwiches that are only slightly smaller. Those folks know when to strike when the iron is hot.

BK and McD's?

Gouging us on one-ounce dipping sauce packets while the nation's economy tanks.

I thought we "deserved a break today" and should "have it our way."

Sure---for a quarter.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Lion Sleeps Tonight

Ted Kennedy doesn't have any brothers who are living, so who will give him his stirring eulogy?

Teddy---the Kennedy brother who was still standing, at age 36, when Bobby was gunned down in Los Angeles in 1968, seeking the presidency. The lone brother---after Joe died in WWII, after John was killed while president prior to Bobby's assassination.

Teddy Kennedy, who survived a plane crash that broke his back, and who survived a controversial car wreck in 1969 that not only killed a young woman but also his chances of ever becoming president himself.

Teddy Kennedy, the accidental (no pun intended) patriarch of the Kennedy family---the "Liberal Lion" of the U.S. Senate.

Teddy's gone now, succumbing at age 77 to brain cancer in a year that's been virulent when it comes to celebrity deaths.

Just last week, we lost Don Hewitt, creator and executive producer of "60 Minutes", and who produced and directed the famous Kennedy/Nixon televised presidential debate of 1960.

And now Teddy's gone, and who will deliver his eulogy for the ages?

It was one of the first---maybe the first---eulogies that stuck with me. I was no older than an adolescent when I heard Teddy's words, spoken as they laid RFK to rest in 1968. Probably heard it on some documentary or something.

"My brother need not be idealized or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life, to be remembered as a good and decent man, who saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it. Those of us who loved him and who take him to his rest today, pray that what he was to us and what he wished for others will someday come to pass for all the world."

Teddy delivered those words, with a halting, staggering voice, inside St. Patrick's Cathedral in Manhattan in June 1968. He never broke down, but he came close.

This was perhaps the most famous part:

" be remembered as a good and decent man, who saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it."

At least, it was the most famous part for me, because those were the words that stuck with me forever.

I don't know that we'll ever hear a better tribute than that sentence.

It captured, perfectly, Bobby Kennedy's mission statement. Whether you agree with the Kennedys politics or not (and Lord knows there are tons of folks who don't), you have to acknowledge the poignancy of those words.

The three youngest Kennedy brothers---John, Bobby and Teddy---before two-thirds of them were cut down by political violence

I guess what I always admired about the Kennedys---at least the three political sons of Joseph and Rose Kennedy---was their empathy for the poor and less fortunate, despite themselves being born with the proverbial silver spoons in their mouths.

The family legacy, certainly, was tarnished as the years went on, thanks to some churlish behavior by a few bozos in the clan.

Teddy was one who stumbled.

The 1969 accident at Chappaquiddick (and Kennedy's actions following it), which killed Mary Jo Kopechne, effectively torpedoed Teddy's chances of becoming the Leader of the Free World. It was a horrific display of bad judgment, and it rightly gave people pause about his moral qualifications to be president.

He gave it a shot in 1980, trying to unseat a sitting president from his own party. The political winds indicated that Jimmy Carter was highly vulnerable in 1978-79---which he was, but not to Kennedy, as it turned out.

Kennedy's campaign was disorganized and his message wasn't clear. Chappaquiddick's impact took the campaign by surprise, along with perhaps Carter's willingness to use it. But Carter was desperate, stumbling along with an approval rating in the 20s.

"If he (Kennedy) runs, I'll whip his ass," Carter was quoted as saying, by those close to him.

And that's exactly what Jimmy did.

Kennedy started out of the gate slowly, regained a little momentum in springtime, but then faded again. He conceded the nomination during the convention in New York.

Carter's inability, though, to win over Kennedy supporters hurt him badly against Ronald Reagan in the general election.

When Kennedy appeared on stage after Carter's acceptance speech---which Teddy was late for---he shook the nominee's hand but didn't raise arms with him in the traditional show of party solidarity. Some say that didn't do Carter any favors, either, in terms of bringing Kennedy supporters on board.

Maybe Teddy himself wrote his own eulogy---or words for his epitaph.

This is what he said after conceding the 1980 nomination to Carter.

"For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die."

That might do just fine.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Stir Crazy

You'll never be able to make fried rice like me, but that doesn't mean I can't help you in your ultimately futile effort.

Yeah, I get cocky about it, because no American whips up fried rice like I can.

And you've probably been tossing out those cartons of uneaten white rice from the Chinese take-out joints all these years, oblivious to their culinary potential.

Tsk, tsk.

I first started frying rice and creating various concoctions with it about 20 years ago, when I purchased my first Chinese cookbook, having been on an Asian food jag. It was around the time that I discovered Thai food and its glorious heat and spice. Till then, I thought the only spicy Asian stuff was the Szechuan and Mandarin cuisine of China. Silly me.

Homemade fried rice, when done properly, is good on so many levels.

Number one, you're using up every bit of your Chinese take-out leftovers, so you can feel satisfied about that.

Number two, it's a terrific way to get rid of some other leftovers that may be in danger of going bad in the fridge.

Number three, you can have fun with it and experiment with different sauces and spices.

The key is preparation, as it is with any stir-fry dish. I've made the mistake of starting to stir-fry before all the ingredients were ready for the wok/skillet, and before you know it, you're Lucille Ball and Vivian Vance in that famous chocolate-wrapping/conveyor belt scene from "I Love Lucy"---trying desperately to rinse and chop veggies while trying to keep the the stuff that's cooking from burning up.

So get everything prepped before you even turn the burner on.

I like to use a carbon steel wok (like THIS), but you can use a non-stick skillet, too. But it ought to be a big one. Stir-frying is fun, but only if you have enough room to stir and fry. If the skillet is too small, the food won't cook evenly and it's not stir-frying---it's more like flipping pancakes.

If you use a non-stick skillet, make sure to be armed with a wooden or plastic stir-fry utensil (spatula, etc) so as not to ruin the no-stick surface. I use a carbon steel wok mostly, which allows me to utilize my stainless steel spatula, which looks a lot like this.

The best fried rice NOT made by an Asian:

AT LEAST 4 cups of COLD, cooked white rice*
Two eggs
Soy sauce
Ground WHITE pepper
About 1 t fresh ginger, minced
Two cloves of garlic, minced (NEVER garlic powder!)
Salt (to taste)
MSG (if you wish)
Hot pepper flakes (to taste)
Frozen peas and/or corn
Assorted chopped veggies (celery, green pepper, green onion, carrots)
Tiny cooked, canned shrimp (optional; or leftover shrimp)
Any leftover, chopped, cooked meat (boneless chicken or pork, etc)
Sesame oil (about 2 t)
Cooking oil of choice

*Rice MUST be cold, and before cooking, wet hands and break up rice as much as you can, preferably into a separate bowl for easy access when it's time to add; try to avoid as many clumps of rice as possible

Ready? Here we go.

Make sure everything is chopped and ready to go. As for the amount of the above ingredients that show no amount, you'll have to use your own judgment. Generally I use about a cup of frozen peas or corn, two stalks of chopped celery, and about six chopped green onions.

1. Heat EMPTY wok/skillet on high heat for about two minutes
2. Pour 2 T cooking oil onto w/s and swirl to cover; add minced garlic and ginger (don't keep garlic in oil too long before next step, or else it will get brown and crusty)
3. Break the eggs into the w/s and, using spatula, quickly break yolks and fry until you have shards of "scrambled" eggs
4. Add chopped veggies, all at once (EXCEPT for the peas and/or corn!!) and stir-fry until opaque and medium crunchy; also sprinkle mixture with about a 1/4 t of white pepper while frying (MSG added here, if desired)
5. Empty cooked eggs and veggies into another dish and save for later use
6. Keep heat high and add 2 more T of cooking oil
7. Add separated rice and 2 t of sesame oil; stir fry about 5 minutes (while frying rice, add soy sauce to taste, and to give light brown color; also, this is where you'd add desired amount of red pepper flakes for some heat); stir rice VERY often (like, constantly)
8. Add frozen peas/corn, and any shrimp, meat, etc. that you chose to use
9. Stir fry mixture, which is now getting heavier, over high heat, while adding more soy sauce to taste; make sure frozen peas/corn and meat are heated through
10. Pour eggs/veggie mix into the fray
11. Keep stirring and frying over HIGH heat!!
12. Add more soy sauce to taste
13. Enjoy!!

Fried rice, as prepared above, can be a meal all by itself, or at the very least, a substantial side dish. Either way, it's yummy.

While you make this dish, it's nice to sip wine or drink beer while cooking.

It doesn't hurt to make sure that the folks you're cooking for also have plenty of wine and beer, as well! Just in case.

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Endless Cocktail Hour

Michael Jackson, I see now, never had a chance.

He was a walking vessel of prescription drugs so powerful and of such a wide variety, that I'm amazed that he lived as long as he did.

Pop star Jackson, who slipped into death in late June at age 50, officially died as a result of homicide, according to a source close to the Los Angeles County coroner.

The straw that broke the camel's back, according to reports, was the powerful anesthetic propofol, which was administered to Jackson in lethal doses.

Jackson couldn't sleep. So he had his doctor, Conrad Murray, fill him with a volatile cocktail that included propofol and other sedatives.

The list of drugs connected with Jackson reads like a pharmaceutical journal. It makes Elvis Presley look like a popper of Flintstones vitamins.

Clonazepam, Lorazepam, Tamsulosin, Temazepam, Tizanidine, Trazodone and Valium.

Except for Valium, I have no idea what these drugs do, but there's a lot of them and many of them have the "pam" suffix, which even I know typically means a sedative.

Regular people swallow a couple of OTC tablets or a couple teaspoons of NyQuil if they have trouble sleeping. Others take meds prescribed by their doctor.

Jackson was taking propofol to sleep, which is like using a bazooka to kill a housefly.

Dr. Conrad Murray, Jackson's doctor and someone who might be in a heap of trouble

In case you missed it in the fourth paragraph, propofol is an anesthetic, not a sleeping medication. Oh, it will put you out, alright, but out as in "coma".

Jackson was a frequent doctor shopper, moving from one to another until he got what he wanted prescribed for him. It was going on for years, and apparently was all a big family secret.

The problem, of course, doesn't end with Jackson's death. Hollywood is filled with doctors who, whether from being starstruck or from being just plain old greedy and derelict, will give their "patients" pretty much whatever it is that they want.

I placed patients in quotation marks because they're not likely to have any sort of long-term relationship with these docs.

It's running rampant, this powerful-meds-by-demand thing that's coursing through Tinsel Town like blood through veins.

Doubtless several more stars will die because of it.

Jackson was so doped up, and probably for so long, that it might explain some of his erratic behavior.

Michael would be placed into coma-like states, on his orders. He would literally be administered an IV that would drip-drip the anesthetic into him. Then, at the designated time, the drip would stop and Michael would wake up.

Then, he no doubt would take more drugs to speed up and accentuate the waking up process and prolong the "awake state." Until it was time to "go to bed" again, when he'd be stuck with another needle.

This is mind-boggling, and just plain weird.

Yet dozens in his inner circle let it all happen, right under their nose.

Maybe they were afraid of being cast out. Jackson, in his prime, was one of the most powerful people in show business. Best not to piss off those kinds of folks.

Jackson wasn't a man. He wasn't a human being. He was a chemistry experiment.

When I first heard of the death of Michael Jackson, I thought of how young it was to go, at age 50.

The more I find out about it, I think of how amazing it is that he lived to be as old as 50.


Friday, August 21, 2009

The Cloak of Internet Anonymity

I feel sorry for all the Joe Smiths in the world.

Or the Bob Johnsons.

Or any married female---and not for the reason you think.

For how can any of the above ever be found on the Internet? Or on social networking sites like Facebook?

We've all done it---looked up former classmates or co-workers or childhood friends on search engines like Google, to see if we find a match, and therefore have a chance to find out what in the world they're up to.

It's easier when the name you're searching is...well, like mine, for instance.

How many Greg Enos did YOU grow up with?

The names of the friends I've looked up haven't been 100% unique, but they're usually different enough that when I find matches, chances are that one of them is the person I'm seeking.

Which brings me back to poor Joe Smith.

What are the odds that ole Joe will ever be found by those curious as to his whereabouts?

Too many Joe Smiths, and who has the patience to try to whittle them down to a manageable number?

Of course, maybe some Joe Smiths don't want to be found---in which case, the commonality of their name is just fine with them, thank you.

Then there's the married woman.

If my lovely wife, Sharon, is reading this, just know, honey, that if I type in a female classmate into Google, it's all very innocent. And, likely, all very futile.

Married women change their last names, you know. And darned if we know what that new name is.

As a result---no doubt hoping to found by other female friends rather than to be surprised by some dude from their past---the ladies are taking to hyphenating their names when using Facebook, for example.

My wife has done so, and because she did, dozens of high school classmates and friends from the neighborhood have emerged, requesting her Facebook Friendship.

They have no clue what the heck that funny name is after the hyphen, but they sure as heck remember the name before it.

As a writer, my name tends to appear around the Web more so than others'. I'm an easy find, and have been. Tomorrow we're attending a soiree being thrown by a guy I haven't seen in some 30 years. We didn't even go to the same high school together; we were junior high mates.

Ahh, but there's Google and there's Facebook and there's that damned "Eno" surname again.

"Are you the same Greg Eno who went to Whitman Jr. High?," he wanted to know in an unsolicited Facebook message.

Why yes I am!

My photo is readily available, too, and I've been told that I haven't changed much. So that makes me a ridiculously easy find.

But Joe Smith? Bob Johnson? Jennifer (I'm Married Now)?

Good luck!

Their names may as well be John and Jane Doe.

Which, come to think of it, might have something going for it.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

For PETA's Sakes!

I guess PETA doesn't think it needs donations from the plus-size community.

Because it sure ain't gonna be gettin' any NOW.

PETA, which rhymes with the bread but actually stands for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, has proven that they need to work on the ethical treatment of humans.

Billboards have gone up in Jacksonville, FL trumpeting the benefits of going vegetarian as a way to slim down.

So far, so good.

But the image PETA chose to use is that of an obese woman (the back of her, anyway) spilling out of a bikini, on a beach. The words that accompany the image are, "Save the Whales. Lose the blubber. Go vegetarian."

There are no whales on the billboard, even though "Whales", by far, is the biggest and most prominent word displayed.

Get it?

Ha ha---boy, that's so funny, my sides are splitting!


The billboard in question

How could PETA possibly think that making fun of overweight women---especially when the female gender is far more sensitive to weight than their male counterparts---is a good way of endearing itself to that sector of folks?

Plus-size women have money, too. They have compassion, too. They like animals, too.

So seeing a billboard as offensive as this is supposed to make them want to break out the checkbook?

Now, the message is to go vegetarian, but PETA is also an organization that relies on donations to keep afloat.

And, I gotta say, I'll bet there are some "plus-size" men who are offended, too.

The lumping of the plus-size gals with whales is so juvenile and remedial that it's flabbergasting that such a comparison could find its way onto a billboard.

"Hey, but it's got people talking!"

Sure---but are they donating?

The billboard is a blatant attempt to shame people whose self-esteem may already be suffering, into drastically changing their lifestyle, so PETA can further its agenda.

And they have "ethical" in their acronym?

Speaking of shame, PETA doesn't seem to feel any of it.

"Trying to hide your thunder thighs and balloon belly is no day at the beach," says PETA Executive Vice President Tracy Reiman. "PETA has a free 'Vegetarian Starter Kit' for people who want to lose pounds while eating as much as they like."

Thunder thighs. Balloon belly.

No day at the beach---oh, she's so clever!

I'm not usually one to cry foul when it comes to advertising or comedy bits. If we never poked fun at any ethnic group or class of people or club or organization, we'd never laugh. And a lot of that laughter is at our own expense.

Just look at the Celebrity Roasts. If those jokes were taken at face value, the courts would be even more awash with defamation lawsuits than they already are.

But there is such a thing as going too far. True, it's sometimes hard to see that line drawn in the sand---no pun intended---but sometimes you just "know."

Someone at PETA should have winced and said, "Let's tone it down a bit. Maybe we can advance our cause and deliver our message in a different yet still funny way."

Certainly there are women who work for PETA besides the laugh riot Tracy Reiman. And I doubt they're all size fours. So why didn't one of them raise their hand---or better, their voice---and say, "No way, Jose!"

Tsk, tsk.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

60 Minutes Of Fame

There've been some terrific, mano-a-mano battles and grudge matches over the years.

Jack Dempsey and Gene Tunney. Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier.

Leroy and Loretta Lockhorn. Kate and Jon Gosselin.

George Steinbrenner and Billy Martin.

Don Hewitt and Mike Wallace.

That last one has seen its last battle, sadly.

Hewitt, the creator and longtime executive producer of "60 Minutes", is gone. Passed away at age 86.

The year has been unkind. We've lost more than our usual share of celebrities and notables, it seems.

Hewitt created "60 Minutes" in 1968---a year filled with tension and turmoil---and continued as the show's executive producer until 2004, at age 81.

And it was he and one of the show's hosts, Mike Wallace, who had some infamous battles.

Usually they'd either occur in the edit room, where Hewitt and Wallace butted heads over which sound bites to use, or in the "war room"---a TV term for the brainstorming session venue, where ideas for stories were pitched.

Expletives would fly. Observers feared some of the "discussions" would turn physically violent.

But Hewitt and Wallace had great respect for each other, and were famously able to separate their off-air debates from the time they spent together publicly.

“He had a knack," Hewitt once said of Wallace, "for getting things out of people that others never got out of them — niches and hidden moments that they never shared with anyone. But they did with Mike.”

Don Hewitt: 1922-2009

Hewitt's career at CBS started in 1948, and he was the first director of Edward R. Murrow's "See it Now" show of the 1950s, which was a groundbreaking documentary program.

It was a 37-year-old Hewitt who directed the legendary Richard Nixon-John Kennedy televised debate of 1960. There's film footage of Hewitt, prior to air, overseeing the lighting and camera placement.

The lighting and set selection were key, because the ill Nixon looked pale, gaunt and haggard against the off-white backdrop. These were the days of black-and-white TV, so Nixon's pasty face looked even worse than had the images been in color.

Folks who listened to the debate on radio thought Nixon won, for the most part. Those who watched it on TV, with the tanned and fit-looking Kennedy coming into their living rooms, thought JFK won overwhelmingly.

TV news came of age the weekend of JFK's murder in 1963, but the power of the medium when it came to influencing people's opinions first bobbed to the surface in the wake of the 1960 Nixon-Kennedy debate. Make no mistake about it.

"60 Minutes" was another groundbreaking program, resonating far more than "See it Now."

For Hewitt's program took its cameras to the subject, rather than the subject traipsing to the studio. And that invasion, regardless that it was agreed to, added a rich texture to the show.

But then "60 Minutes" began invading unannounced, or certainly not by invite. The show expanded beyond simple yet compelling profiles to a more in-your-face, investigative style.

In any given hour, viewers could be treated to an interview with Johnny Carson at his home, a "gotcha!" piece on a crooked businessman, a rousing segment of "Point/Counterpoint", and an airy "Few Minutes with Andy Rooney."

All while the iconic stopwatch tick-tocked its way through the program, going into and coming out of commercials.

People sometimes forget that the purpose of "60 Minutes" was to be presented as a television "magazine", complete with stories that were introduced with a mock magazine design behind the hosts.

There would be no "60 Minutes" without Don Hewitt. Which means there'd be no "Nightline" or "20/20" or "Dateline" or "48 Hours."

The world would likely have never heard of Morley Safer or Wallace or many others; even though they were good journalism people, they may not have gotten a break if Hewitt didn't put them on the air.

“Confrontation is not a dirty word," Hewitt said back in the day. "Sometimes it's the best kind of journalism as long you don't confront people just for the sake of a confrontation.”

Somehow, the last half of that quote got lost in the shuffle over the years.

But Hewitt was wrong about one thing.

"I plan," he said, "to die at my desk."

But he gave it a good run, didn't he?

Monday, August 17, 2009

Rocks and Bonds

I miss Bill Bonds.

There---I said it. So sue me.

Bonds, the old channel 7 newscaster, was often more the news than the stuff he was reporting.

His was a time when we were fortunate to have several ne'er-do-wells on the air in Detroit, all at the same time.

There was Bonds, of course, and his ham-handed way of delivering news---that is, when they were able to sober him up enough to make it before the cameras for the 11:00, after Billy drank dinner following the 6:00.

There was "Acid" Al Ackerman, the sportscaster, whose wrath was felt by many an athlete and coach in this town. An interview with Ackerman was often prickly and always entertaining.

There was Sonny Eliot, the goofball weather man who made the news a "must see" at 11:21, so you could listen to pun after pun and watch as Sonny would pluck the Keweenaw Peninsula from the Michigan map he chalked up and tweak it. Or listen to him say things like, "It's going to be cloudy and windy tomorrow, or 'clindy'," as Sonny would combine the two words, vertically, with his ever-present stick of chalk.

You had the husband and wife team of John Kelly and Marilyn Turner, whose act grew too big for the news, so channel 7 gave them their own show, "Kelly and Company," in the mornings. I always wondered if Marilyn fought the exclusion of her last name.

I might be one of the few people alive who knows that John and Marilyn had themselves a son, Dean, who played several years in the NHL and was known as a "tough guy", or "enforcer" in his day. Dean used his mother's last name while he fought his way through the league.

There was the pixie-ish traffic and weather girl, Jo Jo Shutty-MacGregor, who was married to radio newsman Byron MacGregor. Jo Jo was a tiny thing and was one of the first to give us traffic reports from a helicopter.

But Bill Bonds was the epicenter of all this garish, in-your-face news reporting style that dominated the 1970s and some of the 1980s.

Billy Bonds, circa nowadays

How else to describe it, when Billy, loaded one night, challenged Detroit Mayor Coleman Young to a fistfight?

Coleman wasn't on the air with Billy at the time, and can you imagine if he had been? Might have been off the charts.

Bonds owned Detroit television for about a decade or so. The 11:00 news on channel 7 was something to behold on many nights, if only to see Billy deliver the stories with that overly dramatic style that could make even the most innocuous news item seem like a heart-stopping bulletin.

He was one of those guys you tuned in to, even if you didn't care for him.

There's a classic moment you might still be able to find on YouTube of Bonds pissing off Utah Senator Orrin Hatch so badly that Orrin ripped off his mike and earpiece and stormed off, leaving Bonds alone with an empty camera shot of the Capitol Building.

A bootlegged copy still exists on YouTube of Bonds losing his mind during a pre-taped, solo news break, spewing expletives and mocking co-anchorwoman Doris Biscoe, one of the classiest ladies ever to appear on Detroit TV. Doris was black, and Billy did a poor and distasteful impression of her during his outburst.

I had been shown that outburst about 15 years ago, it having been pirated by a former channel 7 engineer that I knew, who played it for me only after swearing myself to secrecy about who was showing it to me.

Now it's available to everyone in the world, just about.

Oh, and the engineer's name was Bob Daniels, who no longer has to fear for his job.

Bonds took to doing Gardner-White commercials and is now doing the occasional pitch for the Bernstein Law Offices. Even those spots have been filled with Bonds-generated drama. Sometimes it seems that the more Billy tries to be sincere, he comes off as just the opposite.

I used to work for a time at Art Van Furniture, as a manager, and I remember some of the salesmen telling me of their time working at the AVF location on Woodward Avenue in Royal Oak.

Seems there was a bar nearby and occasionally Bonds could be seen being led out of there and into a limousine, where he was given pure oxygen and prepped for the 11:00 newscast.

True? I wouldn't bet against it.

I'm not telling tales out of school because if this is the first you're reading that Billy was a drunk, then how did you climb out from under that rock and get access to the Internet?

Bill Bonds, a Detroit classic. A man whose drinking and toupee often overshadowed the real news of the day.

Not that overshadowing the news is necessarily a bad thing, considering how depressing everything is nowadays!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Music Man

I used to detest musicals---whether on Broadway or on film.

I found myself unable to wrap my arms around the idea of people having a conversation and then breaking out in song.

They used to make my skin crawl, those musicals.

So naturally, I wish they would bring them back.

It's an about-face I'm doing, and I admit it. I also didn't used to care for westerns, either, but I find myself missing a good one nowadays. The big, blue sky, the horses, the barroom brawls, the gunfights, the camping outside under the stars.

I pine for that stuff now.

I think it's part of my longing for yesteryear with its distinctly reduced amount of everyday strife.

I watched "Guys and Dolls" last night, in case you're wondering where this is coming from.

It's a DVD I've had for months, because I asked for it, to be honest.

I got on a jag where I wanted to watch "Guys" and "West Side Story" and others of that ilk.

Plus, "Guys and Dolls" has Frank Sinatra, and that's always a winner. And Sinatra's last name is Detroit in the movie, so that's another good thing.

But Frankie doesn't have the lead male role.

That honor goes to Marlon Brando, who plays the part of Sky Masterson, which is the part that Sinatra really wanted instead of Nathan Detroit.

The story, real quick: Detroit runs a roving craps game in Damon Runyan's New York City, and is constantly trying to stay one step ahead of Lt. Branigan. Masterson is a big-time gambler.

Detroit needs $1,000 to buy the permission to hold one of his famous craps games in a residential area. Only, he doesn't have the money and decides the quickest way to get it is to sucker Masterson into a $1,000 bet that Sky can't possibly win.

The bet? That ladies' man Sky can't convince straight arrow Sarah Brown, who runs the Save-a-Soul Mission in Manhattan, to accompany him to Havana, Cuba for dinner the next day.

Naturally, Sky takes the challenge (and the bet) and goes to work on poor Sarah, played by Jean Simmons.

Long story short: Sky indeed gets Sarah to Havana while Nathan runs his craps game on credit, believing that he's a sure winner of the $1,000.

There's romance, too---as Nathan is being pestered by his longtime girlfriend, Adelaide (Vivian Blaine), to marry her. Sky and Sarah Brown, the more they get to know each other, fall in love, too.

And I simply haven't done the story justice, but there you have it.

You might wonder why Brando landed a singing role, when he was certainly not a singer by trade.

That's a question that Sinatra would have liked answered.

Deeply disappointed that he didn't land the role of Sky, Frankie took to calling Brando "Mumbles" for his lack of singing ability and his unique way of speaking.

One of the story's signature songs, "Luck Be a Lady," was actually sung by Brando, but perhaps out of spite, Sinatra turned it into one of his signature tunes.

Production notes say that all of Brando's singing numbers were pieced together from multiple takes.

The film version of the Broadway production looks to have been shot on what must have been one of the biggest sound stages in the world. Building after building, big, lighted signs, cars driving up and down the "streets"---it was very impressive.

They don't make musicals anymore, or westerns, really.

Just when I was getting to like them, too.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Schools of Fools

It was a line uttered decades ago, about America's national pastime.

"Baseball must be a great game to be able to survive the fools that run it."

The bemoaner was exasperated at the business of baseball, and so the above gem tumbled from his lips.

I'd like to re-work that quote, if I could---being exasperated myself.

"Detroit must be a great city to survive the fools that run it."

Another week, another instance of crookedness being revealed about the Motor City and those entrusted to serve it.

This time the stench is coming from the hallways of the city's school district.

They're starting to arraign folks now, as the doo-doo is hitting the fan re: embezzling going on at the DPS.

Tens of thousands of dollars were pilfered, according to charges brought against five ex-DPS staffers. Three were arraigned today.

Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy said that the embezzlement was so brazen, and done with such little care to hide it, that she can't believe charges weren't brought some time ago.

As far as crookedness goes, it doesn't get a lot of points for subtlety.

The charged employees, allegedly, simply wrote themselves checks, or made withdrawals from accounts. Or, in the case of two of the five charged, they were given unauthorized payments by one of the other defendants.

Magistrate Robert Costello entered a not guilty plea on behalf of three arraigned today and set bond for each one.

Bond was set at $10,000 for Lisa C. Williams, 41, and Tammi Henry, 39, both of Detroit. They were required to pay 10%.

Costello set bond at $15,000 for Maria Roscoe, 46, of Eastpointe.

The other two, Roscoe Smiley and Sandra Carter, didn't appear in court but are expected to turn themselves in soon.

The three who were arraigned must appear in 36th District Court on August 25 for a preliminary exam.

DPS fiscal manager Robert Bobb, the poor sap charged with digging through the district's financial mess

Detroit's really been put through the wringer by the fools running it.

Embezzlement. Taking bribes. Not paying taxes. Philandering. Firing whistleblowers then lying about it.

And that's just in the past 16 months, and not all of it, anyway. It's just what I chose to name; I'm too exasperated to present the entire laundry list.

These transgressions, and more, have all been committed by folks who are supposed to be the most upstanding citizens of the city. Or they should be, in theory.

The city council is full of these fools. Or, has been. We'll see what happens in November, when a bunch of them are likely to be swept out of office.

The mayor's office had another of these fools occupying it. Thankfully, the odor from Kwame Kilpatrick is finally starting to wane.

And now the DPS has proven to not be immune to such tomfoolery.

It would be unsurprising if higher ups at the DPS were found to be aware of the funny business yet chose not to do much about it. Or that they, themselves, did some skimming.

Speculation? Sure. But you feel like challenging me on it?

It's no wonder that parents of Detroit kids are taking their offspring north of 8 Mile and seeking education elsewhere, at a rather brisk pace.

One of the arraigned, Henry, who was a food services coordinator at Burns Elementary, is charged with stealing more than $400 in lunch money. She previously was convicted of welfare fraud in 2007 and violated parole for that crime, Costello said.

OK, so maybe they're not all the most upstanding citizens of the city, these fools revealed.

But I think the most telling part of this whole sordid mess is Worthy's incredulity that nothing was done sooner.

So which is worse: the acts themselves, or the slowness to react?

I love Detroit. But I love it like a wayward child who just can't get his act together.

I'd just as soon love it with pride, though---instead of by obligation.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A Dog-gone/Dog-back Tale

If you've ever wondered what goes through a dog's mind while it's being walked---besides, "Where's the nearest fire hydrant or tree?"---the following story might lend a clue.

If the dog is Jarvis, a six-year-old Jack Russell Terrier in the UK, he obviously was memorizing his path.

Seems Jarvis got lost recently while in a park with his owner. He got distracted by a rabbit and gave chase.

After about an hour of looking for Jarvis to no avail, owner Vivienne Oxley gave up hope.

She had no choice but to go home, Jarvis-less.

But this was no ordinary jaunt to the park. In order to get there from Oxley's home near Plymouth Sound, one has to board a ferry and traverse the Sound.

The need to hop a boat no doubt made Oxley feel even more despondent and pessimistic about ever seeing little Jarvis again.

But Jarvis, as indicated, pays good attention.

Some time after growing bored with trying to catch rabbits, Jarvis found himself in a quandary.

No owner, no way home.

Time to channel his built-in, canine GPS system.

Jarvis made his way through the park and to the ferry dock. Then he did what was expected of him: he boarded the next ferry; what else?

The park warden, who'd been alerted to the dog's disappearance, phoned Oxley to let her know that Jarvis had been spotted on the ferry.

Before Oxley could get to the docks to search for him, her phone rang again. This time, it was her husband calling to tell her Jarvis had made it home, with tail a-wagging. The dog had walked another half-mile from the ferry, crossed three main roads, and returned to his house no worse for wear.

Vivienne Oxley and her very direction-conscious Jack Russell Terrier, Jarvis

Stories of domestic animals finding their way home are nothing new, of course. In some reported instances, the distance traveled has been hundreds of miles.

But to have the presence of mind to find the ferry dock and get on a boat, then get off the boat and make your way home?

That's pretty special.

"I just couldn't believe it," Oxley said. "I was so relieved. When I got home he was just (sitting) in the window as if nothing had happened!"

The funny thing is, in Jarvis's mind, nothing had happened. He had no clue that he had done something amazing. To him, it was just instinct.

We own a Jack Russell, and I can tell you that they are very smart dogs. Sometimes too smart. I remember during our first vet visit with him, one of the girls at the office said of Jacks, "They're brainiacs."

And also, apparently, pretty good navigators.

I wonder if Jarvis, being a male, would ever paws to ask for directions?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Elvis Week, Part II

Brace yourself for an onslaught of girls, bikinis, racing cars, songs coming from nowhere, and some pretty bad acting.

You're about to be swept away to Hawaii, Las Vegas, down South, out East, and up and down the Pacific coast of California.

You'll see a king as a mechanic, a salesman, a tourist, and a plethora of other identities.

It's Elvis Died This Week, week. The movie channels will be aplomb with Elvis movies through Sunday, at least.

Last week I ruminated about the death of Marilyn Monroe, which happened on August 5, 1962.

Elvis Presley left this Earth on August 16, 1977, and he was another who died at home, with something to do with drugs.

His death got America all shook up.

They found MM in her bed, and Elvis in his bathroom. Both dead as door nails.

Over-ingesting of drugs was the cause of death in both instances, although MM's demise has a small cloud of conspiracy hanging over it.

No such drama with Presley, who surely died from his own hand. The only question was whether it was deliberate or accidental.

Like Monroe, Elvis showed signs of deteriorating.

His face got paunchy and his whole body became bloated in the final years of his life---perhaps from the late-30s and beyond. Elvis was 42 when he died.

I remember hearing of Elvis's death on the radio, and telling my mother as soon as she arrived home from work---when she was barely out of the car.

She wasn't much of a fan, but he was still iconic enough so that when you heard of his death, you definitely stopped what you were doing and reflected, fan or not. And my mother did, indeed give pause after I delivered the news.

I'm more of a fan of Elvis as a person, rather than as a singer or actor.

Mainly, I dug his sense of humor, which comes through so plainly in the film clips you see of him, whether he was on stage or off it.

I like his music, too, even though I wouldn't put his voice in the upper echelon of performers of all time. But it was good enough to accompany the melodies to which he (and we) rocked.

There are two times when you're deluged with Elvis movies and specials: in early January, to coincide with his birthday (January 8---same as my wife's, actually), and now, to honor his death.

Babe Ruth died on August 16, too, but you'd never know it.

Of course, The Babe couldn't move like Elvis. And maybe Elvis had more hits.

Actually, the conspiracy nuts have been out when it comes to Presley.

As in, he's not really dead at all. Elvis just put us through a ruse so he could be alone.

But I'm sure you don't believe all that nonsense.

Elvis Aaron Presley---the surviving identical twin from Mississippi who gosh darn near invented rock-and-roll. Dead from drugs and gross negligence of his body at age 42.

Marilyn Monroe, dead at 36. Judy Garland, a shell of herself when she died at age 47. Michael Jackson, gone at 50.

Maybe these types were never destined to grow old, at least in terms of age.

They packed enough aging into their shortened lives to befit and 80-year-old, truth be told.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Squeaky Clean

Squeaky's wheel is going to get some grease.

Lynette Fromme---you might know her as "Squeaky"---will walk out of prison this week, a free woman.

Squeaky was one of the two women who tried to make Gerry Ford a dead president back in 1975, both within several weeks of each other, and both in California. Sara Jane Moore, who was released in January 2008, was the other scorned woman who tried to unleash her hellish fury on President Ford.

The difference? Moore actually got a shot off, while Squeaky just kind of flashed her gun; she had tampered with the weapon prior to showing up, ensuring that it couldn't fire.

No, I don't know why.

Squeaky was a Manson Girl, and that's not nearly as quaint as it sounds.

This is because "Manson" was Charlie Manson, and other than being evil personified, he was an OK guy, I guess.

In 1967, Fromme went to Venice Beach, Calif., suffering from depression. Manson, who had been recently released from federal prison, saw Squeaky and struck up a conversation. Fromme found Manson's philosophies and attitudes appealing, and the two became friends.

Fromme didn't take part in the infamously grisly Tate/La Bianca murders of 1969, but in the fall of 1972, she and some ex-convicts met up with a couple, James and Lauren Willett, at a cabin near Stockton, Calif. They forced James Willett to dig his own grave and gunned him down because he was going to tell the authorities about a series of robberies that the ex-convicts had committed after they were released from prison.

When they found Willett's body, his hand was still sticking out of the ground where he was buried.

Lauren Willett also turned up dead---killed to prevent her from talking about the killing of her husband. Squeaky was released due to a lack of evidence.

So Squeaky turned up in Sacramento in September 1975, withdrew a gun, and waved it as if she was going to gun down the president. Even though her attempt proved to be laughable and impossible to carry out, Fromme was given a life sentence, due to a 1965 law in the aftermath of JFK's killing that put all presidential assassination attempts in the same legal basket.

Moore's attempt came 17 days after Squeaky's bizarre instance.

Well, not really; Squeaky didn't even come with a loaded gun

Another sidebar: earlier in '75, Squeaky tried to get a few moments with Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page, believing that he was in jeopardy. She was sure something bad was going to happen to him. Squeaky said that the last time she had that feeling, she shortly thereafter saw someone shot to death before her very eyes.

Yet Squeaky is soon to be free, on parole.

She's going to be released this Sunday, the 16th.

As a child, Fromme was a performer for a popular local dance group called the Westchester Lariats. She even once appeared on The Lawrence Welk Show.

And-a-one, and-a-two, Squeaky's gonna be released, and it could be near you!

Friday, August 7, 2009

Un-Grand Openings

I can't open anything and I blame James Lewis.

His birthday is tomorrow, I found out, and I'd like to send him a little present---the contents of which I can't print in a family blog.

You can't open anything, either---this I know and can declare confidently. Everything from a CD or DVD package to the inner bag of a cereal box to a bottle of pills---all of them are tightly packaged to the point of cruelty.

Ahh, the pills.

That's what started this whole thing.

The next time you curse at something that you can't open---and that should be anytime within the next four minutes---I'm telling you that you now have a person toward whom to direct your frustration and anger.

He's the aforementioned Lewis.

Lewis is the likely perpetrator (though authorities don't have quite enough evidence to charge him formally) of the 1982 Tylenol poisonings.

Within a two-week period in fall, 1982, seven people in the Chicago area died after ingesting Extra Strength Tylenol capsules that had been laced with potassium cyanide.

Lewis, who was convicted of extortion after he sent a letter demanding $1 million to stop the killings, has gone back and forth from being a prime suspect to not a suspect at all in the poisonings.

Now he's a prime suspect again.

Earlier this year, information came to light that refuted an earlier belief about Lewis---his maintaining that he was living in New York at the time of the killings and therefore could not have physically tampered with the Tylenol bottles in Illinois. Lewis said he had sent the extortion letter, which demanded funds be deposited into a Continental Illinois Bank account, as a way of getting authorities to investigate Continental.

The new information about Lewis? That he, indeed, had lived in the Chicago area in the early-1980s, under a series of assumed names.

Still, there's not enough evidence to convict him.

The free, but not guilt-free, James Lewis

Because of the Tylenol deaths, packaging changed dramatically in this country---and not just for medications. The word "tamper" was re-introduced to our lexicon, and everything was packaged to be "tamper proof."


Medications, I could see. No longer would a tuft of cotton be the only barrier to your aspirin and allergy medicine. Boxes would be double sealed, then shrink-wrapped. The bottles inside would be sealed with foil. If it was too easy to open, you were advised not to ingest the product.


But this zeal extended to other products as well---even those you didn't use internally.

Now, you can't open anything without using God's name in vain.

To make you even more angry about Lewis, he's had a life of escaping justice.

He did, indeed, serve prison time for the extortion attempt---12 years of a 20-year-sentence before being released on parole in 1995.

But other than that, it's been Lewis dodging one legal bullet after another.

In 1978, Lewis was charged with the murder and dismemberment of an elderly man, Raymond West, 72, of Kansas City. Charges were dropped in this murder case after the Jackson County Medical Examiner, Dr. Bonita Peterson, testified that there was no evidence of any homicide. Not sure what happened to the dismemberment charge, though.

In 2004, Lewis was charged with kidnapping and raping a woman in Cambridge, Mass. In 2007, after Lewis had spent three years in jail awaiting trial, the case was dropped by the District Attorney when the alleged victim refused to testify.

And now the lack of sufficient evidence to charge him in the Tylenol killings, even though authorities pretty much know that Lewis is guilty.

The guy's living a charmed life, I'd say.

Anyhow, he turns 63 tomorrow, come to find out.

It'd be great if he didn't make it, but that's not very Christian of me, is it?

But let's see how Christian YOU are about Mr. Lewis, the next time you struggle to open a bag of cookies or a vacuum-sealed bottle of Wite-Out, now that you know who you have to blame.

When he does go, they should shrink-wrap his coffin and seal it inside a "tamper-proof" vault.

Still would be better to do those things to him while he's alive.

Sorry, God.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Norma Jeane's Goodbye

Forty-seven years ago today, America got a lot less sexy.

Marilyn Monroe died on August 5, 1962.

Some say she was murdered. Not sure about that; seems folks like to cry "foul play" whenever a celebrity dies under mysterious circumstances.

Gee, I wonder if there are any current examples, happening right now, to support that accusation?

So it was that on this date, the sex symbol actress and model Monroe was found dead in her bed, the victim of an apparent drug overdose.

The fact that Marilyn died from drugs isn't under dispute. It's how she ingested them that's the issue, for some people.

The Kennedys have been looked at cross-eyed by some conspiracy mongerers.

President John and Attorney General Bobby both had their intimate moments with Marilyn, it's been widely reported. In fact, phone records verify that MM spoke with RFK the evening of her death.

So why kill Marilyn Monroe?

Well, dead men---and women---tell no tales, and it's been speculated that Monroe might have been about to spill some very delicate beans about her relationship with the Kennedys, and the boys' dalliances with some other sweet young things.

Juicy stuff, eh?

There've been stories.

Some men busted into Monroe's Hollywood-area home, physically restrained her, and shoved lethal doses of dope up her rectum. Sorry to describe it with absolutely no finesse, but that was the gist of it.

There were other tales, but that one has gotten the most play.

Of course, the conspiracy people conveniently like to dismiss MM's serious lack of mental stability in the months leading up to her death.

She was a terribly sad and lonely woman that spring. She was working on a movie with Dean Martin, called, ironically, "Something's Got to Give," but "working" was often a misnomer.

Marilyn would be late to the set. Marilyn wouldn't show up at all. Marilyn would forget her lines.

Marilyn was messed up.

She celebrated a birthday during filming---which was never completed because of her demise---and there's a haunting photo of her looking over her birthday cake with eyes that were devoid of spirit.

The potential reasons for her drug dependency is a long list. Her life certainly contained enough drama to shove an emotionally-weak person to the edge and eventually over it.

One year and a day after Monroe's death, I entered this world.

Yeah, that means my birthday is tomorrow.

How shameless we can be sometimes, huh?

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Fixing The Unbroken

Today we bring you a report from the What Were They Thinking? department.

The Sci Fi Channel is now the SyFy Channel.

Umm, why?

Here's Dave Howe, the channel's president---who from now on will be known as one of the dumbest people on the planet. A move this boneheaded needs to be described in the words of the moron who signed off on it.

"We needed a unique and distinct brand name that we can own for the future, that works in the multiplatform, on-demand world," Howe told, adding that "Sci Fi" isn't a brand name, it's "a genre name."

Well, "Chiller" is a genre, too, and that's a network name. So is "comedy", and Comedy Central seems to work just fine. I'm full of 'em.

"Syfy," Howe said, "gives us a unique brand name."

Oh, it's unique, Dave---uniquely brainless.

The Sci Fi Channel, as all networks do from time to time, has evolved. It's true that their programming doesn't only include science fiction-like content. But I don't think viewers of Sci Fi feel button-holed into thinking that they're watching strictly science fiction programming anyway.

They watch because they like the shows---just like any person watches any other network/channel.

The new name just looks stupid, to boot.

My wife enjoys "Ghost Hunters" on Sci Fi (no, I will NOT use the new name except to mock and deride it) and when we watch now, that new "SyFy" logo looks like we're watching Sci Fi for kids.

You know---kids, who spell things out phonetically, and who have things spelled for them phonetically at times, as clever marketing ploys.


That change has dumbed down the network, as far as I'm concerned.

I'm not alone in this belief.

"Perhaps the most ill-advised branding move since New Coke," wrote CNet's "Digital City" blogger Dan Ackerman.

Even some of Sci Fi's own commenters were dismissive.

"This is a terrible idea," Grateful Josh wrote.

"You mean the announcement wasn't an April Fool's joke?" Sue Lee asked.

Some critics have taken to pronouncing the new name "Siffy."

Howe says he "isn't worried" about the backlash.

"The last thing we want to do is alienate our core audience," he added, as he explained a change that has done exactly that. "With the new name, shows such as 'Galactica' can be exposed to a wider audience, one not scared away by all that 'Sci Fi' connotes."

Scared away, Dave?

"Space and aliens and the future," in Howe's words.

Yeah, that scares the hell out of me. Scares me enough to not watch anything on any network called "Sci Fi."

Imagine if they had left the name alone

Marketing expert Rachel C. Weingarten, who was part of the team that helped turn TNN (The Nashville Network) into Spike, says Spike's old name wasn't attracting the key male demographic or the advertiser dollars that came with it.

"With the way it was, nobody was excited," she recalled. Changing the name to Spike, she said, gave the network visibility and---thanks to more programming of action movies and combat-oriented shows---more appeal to men.

However, Weingarten's not convinced that changing Sci Fi into Syfy is a good idea.

"I think they're trying too hard," she said. "Also, the timing's unfortunate." With the struggling economy, advertisers are taking more of a wait-and-see approach to buying spots, she said, and so the changeover may not get the marketing support it should.

Yet Howe's got his feet dug into the ground---or should I say, "growned"?

The new name, he says, needed to be usable all over the world in Internet URLs, brand extensions and merchandising, and "the only way to do that is to create an empty name."

Empty? Mission accomplished.

"We wanted a word that was uniquely ours," Howe says, "while not straying too far from the sound of 'Sci Fi'."

My goodness, what else was considered, then?


PsiPhi, to please the Greek people? And the college fraternity kids?

In fairness to the boob Howe, he does have at least one supporter.

Seton Hall advertising professor Walt Guarino thinks the network is making a good move.

"I do not think that the SciFi Channel will lose an ounce of equity by changing to Syfy," he told CNN via e-mail. "I think the name change is a reason to create new awareness to the brand. However, given their appeal to such a defined audience, I don't see many new people 'entering their tent' as a result of this name change."

You see, Howe is convinced that "Sci Fi" was a barrier to possible viewers. But as a result of the change, SyFy is so foreign, so perplexing, that I'd wager some folks won't tune in simply because they don't know what the hell "SyFy" connotates.

Frankly, it looks like a chemical company or a chemical equation.


Fie---on SyFy.

Monday, August 3, 2009

A Gym Brat

I apologize to Mr. Flynn. It's been a long time coming.

I was a ringleader of sorts, who made Mr. Flynn's life more difficult than it needed to be. But I just wanted to win so badly.

Mr. Flynn was my gym teacher in grade school---we called it "elementary school" then, and the folks before us called it "grammar school"---and again, I'm sorry, sir.

I was the Billy Martin and Earl Weaver of my day, traits not endearing to an 11-year-old boy. And Mr. Flynn was the unflappable but exasperated umpire.

Never was my competitive spirit higher than as an adolescent. Baseball, touch football, Monopoly, Uncle Wiggly, you name it---I wanted to win. Very badly.

My own mother ejected me from a game of table hockey, though she likely doesn't remember it, nor would choose to believe that about her only kid.

But it's true. She and I were playing---I'm around nine or ten years old---and she scores a goal on me and I lifted the game off its hind legs and let it drop with a clank. Actually, she ejected herself---leaving me alone to stew about my actions.

"This is for the birds," I remember her saying.

I just hated to lose. I guess I was also like Ty Cobb in that regard. And if you thought a mini Earl Weaver was ghastly...

So in gym class, Mr. Flynn would preside over all sorts of games---both indoor and outdoor.

Volleyball. Kickball. Floor hockey. And so on.

Me, on the left, and Mr. Flynn, or may as well be

The choosing of the teams was very scientific.

We'd line up around the perimeter of the gym and Mr. Flynn would say, "OK...ones and twos!!"

The first person would say "ONE!", the second would say "TWO!!"

Very scientific, like I said.

So it was the ones versus the twos. Sometimes Mr. Flynn would get creative and we'd count to four. Then, he'd announce the teams as we all waited with baited breath.


And the threes and twos would race onto the gym floor to partake in the game du jour.

Some of the more sly folks---no names mentioned---would try to be twos AND ones, or some combination that allowed them to play all the time.

Regardless of the team I was on, I was the leader---in whining.

It got to be an inside joke.

A "controversial" play would occur---and for fifth and sixth graders you can imagine what that might have been---and there I'd be, in Mr. Flynn's face.

No joke---I'd race from wherever I was and plead my case as the teacher gave me a bemused look and a smirk.

The other kids would groan and roll their eyes. OK, I didn't see their eyes rolling but I sure as s**t heard the groans.

Sometimes I'd hear, "Eno!", my name drawn out in exasperated fashion by one of the other students---on occasion even a girl.

"No way" was one of my pet phrases.

Mr. Flynn would call a shot a goal that was suspect, in floor hockey for example.

"No way!"

Then I'd be upon him.

At first it was me and some other whiners, but then they tired of the act and it was left to me to plead the case, solo.

I like to think I kept Mr. Flynn and the proceedings honest, but I was likely just ruining things for everyone else.

So, sorry, everyone else. You deserve an apology, too.

I heard that Mr. Flynn, in the summer months, was a bet-taker at DRC, the old horse racing course at Middlebelt and I-96.

No doubt he had to settle some disputes while in that role, too.

What, you disagree?

No way!!