Friday, January 29, 2010

Friday's Favs

(Note: every Friday I'll post a favorite rant from the archives)

from June 18, 2009

Tower of Power

In a long history of silly tiffs between the city of Detroit and those beyond its borders, it was one of the silliest.

But considering who was occupying the mayor's seat in the city, it was no wonder that something seemingly so innocuous could turn into the proverbial mountain from mole hill.

The water tower above the Detroit Zoo became a big old bone of contention, circa mid-1980s, in the thick of Coleman Young's tenure as Hizzoner.

It was all much ado about nothing, Bob Berg told me years later. With a chuckle, to boot.

Berg was Mayor Young's spokesperson, both during and after Coleman's years in office.

Berg and I got to know each other while I was Programming Director for Barden Cablevision in Detroit. We became friends of sorts. When my father passed away in February 1996, Bob was one of the first to send condolences.

One day, chit-chatting on the phone, I mentioned the water tower flap. Berg, by that time, had started his own public relations company.

First, the chuckle.

Then, "That was a bunch of nothing!" Berg told me, still laughing. "Oh, my goodness. The water tower..."

His voice trailed off.

The Detroit Zoo, geographically located in Royal Oak, is nonetheless part of the Detroit Zoological Society, which included the zoo on Belle Isle--which is squarely located in Detroit proper, obviously.

On the Royal Oak tower was Mayor Young's name--as, you know, mayor of the city whose zoological society's umbrella included the Zoo on Woodward and I-696.

Oh, the uproar!

How DARE Mayor Young splash his name on the tower, which is oh-so-visible to folks traveling east and west on 696!

It's in Royal Oak, after all!

The Detroit Zoo water tower, when Kwame Kilpatrick was still Detroit's mayor

If you're too young to remember or simply have forgotten, this was big doings for quite some time. Yet another "us vs. them" thing to deal with when it came to the city and its suburbs.

Mayor Young, of course, tended to bring that mentality out, even from normally sane folks.

Young's name--which was a large, horizontal decal on the tower's face--perturbed people to no end. Non-Detroit residents, that is.

Berg dismissed it when I brought it up.

"The Zoo was part of the society, which was funded and staffed, at the time, by the city," Berg said. "No matter who was mayor, his name would be on that tower."

Ah, but no mayor had put his name on the tower prior to Young.

"It was just something we did, to make the tower look nicer," Berg said.

Berg reminded me that the mayor is the one who hires and fires the zoo director.

Good point.

Berg got a chuckle out of me bringing up the tower controversy, but he also admitted that it wasn't very funny at the time. It took up a lot of his time, being the mayor's press secretary and all.

"Funny, but nobody complains now," Berg said at the time (circa 1995-96), noting that Mayor Dennis Archer's name was painted on the tower with little to no fanfare.

Bob's former boss, I reminded him, wasn't exactly a kumbaya kind of guy, bringing city residents and the suburbs together in harmony.

To that, he begrudgingly agreed. With disclaimers, of course.

Still defending ole Coleman.

But I still like Bob. Saw him at a media function prior to the Super Bowl in Detroit in 2006. We shared a drink and laughed a bit.

He couldn't pick his boss, I figured.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Stating His Case

So Barack Obama's been in office for one year and he's already promising us that he won't quit.

Not sure if that's a good thing or not---that he has to remind us of that, I mean.

Obama's State of the Union Address Wednesday night ended with an almost Richard Nixon-like line---but of course delivered with a lot more pizazz and confidence.

"I don't quit!"

Neither did Tricky Dick, until the goods were too much on him to overcome.

I'm not comparing Obama to Nixon---well, not really. But it just goes to show you the different reactions that can be drummed up by different speakers delivering pretty much the same message.

Obama was at his best Wednesday night---pointedly glaring at the Republicans as he used his bully pulpit to call them out and place them into a tidy box. He also winked at them and joked, so that no one could accuse him of being a sourpuss or petulant.

He even derided the Supreme Court, who was sitting perhaps 30 feet in front of him. I don't recall any president doing THAT during a SOTU address.

MSNBC commentator Chris Matthews, I think, summed up the president's speech best.

"This one was to 'get the audience back' as they say."

Obama, essentially, was boldly and proudly putting himself up against his detractors and the other party, side by side, and asking the American people to pick a side. At least, that's what I got out of it.

"The 'Just Say No' party was sitting on its hands and smirking," Matthews went on. "That, unfortunately, might be good politics...We'll see."

Jobs was a hot button topic, and was placed toward the front of the speech. After reciting some "feel good" stories, vis a vis letters he's received, Obama acknowledged that for every success story, there are many others that are far less so. People still not working, still not sure WHEN they'll be working again.

But the underlying theme seemed to be Washington and its partisanship.

"Everyday is Election Day," he said.

Then he challenged both parties to, in essence, get stuff done.

I liked this line: "We not only have a budget deficit, we have a trust deficit."

He's right; I don't have statistics to back this up, but I would submit that trust and faith in the federal government is at or near an all-time low.

Obama's numbers have been sinking, which isn't terribly surprising, considering where he started out a year ago. But it has been 12 months, and the bleeding needs to be clotted, so the SOTU address was designed to do just that. It's not often that you can have 75 minutes of national TV time, unabated.

You give Obama that kind of face time and a TelePrompTer and if you're on the other side, you're going to take some hits. No question.

But I recall something an old football coach once said.

Bum Phillips, who coached the Houston Oilers and New Orleans Saints in the NFL, was talking about halftime pep talks.

"I don't give speeches," Bum drawled. "Because no matter how good a speech is, the first time a player gets the stuffing beat out of him, he forgets that speech."

That would seem to suit Washington just fine. Unfortunately.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Kerrigan, Again

A little over 16 years after being attacked in Detroit, Nancy Kerrigan just got clubbed again.

This time it's fatal; Kerrigan, the figure skater who was whacked on the leg at Cobo Arena in January 1994 in a bizarre plot cooked up by her rival's camp, has now lost her father.

Daniel Kerrigan, 70, was found dead in his Massachusetts home early Sunday morning, and his son and Nancy's brother, Mark, is under arrest.


Mark Kerrigan, 45, pleaded not guilty during his arraignment in Woburn District Court Monday where he was charged with assault and battery on a person over 60.

Police reports said officers received a 911 call to the Kerrigan home at 7 Cedar Avenue about 1:30 a.m. Sunday and found Kerrigan's father, Daniel, unconscious and not breathing on the kitchen floor.

Mark Kerrigan, an unemployed plumber and Army veteran, was found in the basement, where he had been living in his parents home since being released from a Billerica jail where he served time on 2007 assault and battery charges.

"He was clearly intoxicated, he was also extremely combative with the police, very violent. He refused to comply with their orders and they had to subdue him with the use of pepper spray. He had to be forcibly removed from the home," state prosecutor Elizabeth Healy said during the arraignment in court.

Nancy Kerrigan is 40 now. She was 24 when a goon hired at the behest of the ex-husband of Kerrigan's chief rival for the U.S. Skating Championships, Tony Harding, clubbed her just above the knee. The attack happened right outside the dressing room at Cobo Arena in Detroit.

You've seen the video, shot moments after the clubbing. It shows Kerrigan, wailing and clutching her wounded leg.

"WHY? WHYYY?" She cried.

Nancy Kerrigan, moments after being attacked at Cobo Arena in 1994

In the Department of Poetic Justice, Kerrigan overcame the injury and captured a silver medal in the Olympic Games in Lillehammer about a month after being set upon in Detroit.

Now she has to deal with a much worse blow.

Mark Kerrigan, according to state prosecutor Healy, suffers from post-traumatic stress illness from his military service and takes medication and receives therapy for it.

Kerrigan's mother Brenda, who is legally blind, was at home at the time of her husband's death and said she heard the fight but was unclear as to exactly what happened. Nancy Kerrigan, a two-time Olympic medalist, arrived at her parents' Stoneham home late Sunday morning, making no comment.

The Kerrigan attack didn't do any favors for Detroit, a city that never seems able to outpace its bad press. It didn't matter that it could have happened anywhere---or certainly whichever town was hosting the skating championships that year. It only mattered that it happened in Detroit. The press made it seem like it was fait accompli that a violent act such as the Kerrigan incident should occur in Detroit.

Thankfully, I would bet you that if you polled 100 people who would confirm recollection of the attack, less than half of them could tell you which city it occurred in. Time heals, and makes people forget.

But I know where it happened---specifically. I've stood in the very spot where Kerrigan got her leg whacked, because I've been in Cobo many times, mainly for TV productions. I could point it out to you today.

As for the death of Kerrigan's father, prosecutor Healy says the accused son/brother is "very distraught and in grief. He denies the allegations of the commonwealth," she said.

Mark Kerrigan has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

So did Harding's people to the allegations of attacking Nancy Kerrigan, at first. And look what happened there.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Friday's Favs

(Note: every Friday I'll post a favorite rant from the archives)

from March 31, 2009

Good Humor Me

Tell me, do some things seem smaller than what you remember, or did they just seem bigger because YOU were small?

Probably a little bit of both. But you can strap me to a lie detector, make me swear on a stack of Bibles, and have me stand on the grave of my father. In all instances, I'll tell you that the Good Humor bar is smaller than it once was.

This isn't another example of a bug-eyed kid whose recollection, as an adult, has become skewed over time.

Grab me a rosary and stick it in my hands. Make me look my mother right in the peepers. Threaten to swipe my first (and only) born if I'm lying.

The Good Humor bar is shrinking.

This atrocity made itself present in our home last week. My lovely wife came home with two boxes of Good Humor bars -- Toasted Almond and Chocolate Eclair -- and it was enough to make me undress her with my stomach.

First, I must enlighten the babes among my readers. The older folks, bear with me. This won't take long.

The Good Humor ice cream truck tooled around the burbs, its driver dressed in all white and jingling a set of bells that were located above the rear view mirror. With his hand.

That's right -- no piped in music, no endless loop of calliope-style melodies. Just some bells, jingled and jangled by the driver, aka The Good Humor Man, as he saw fit.

The truck itself was white, too, and compact. It looked like an old white fridge that burst, like popcorn, on steroids and on wheels.

The Good Humor Man had an amazing sense of touch. Because he hardly ever relied on his eyes, when he was fetching your order at the curb. You'd tell him what you wanted, and he knew instantly which of the two hatches on the truck's sides to open. Then, simply by reaching inside, without looking, he'd pull out the correct item(s).

I still don't know how they did that.

Now THAT'S what I'm talkin' about!

The trucks disappeared from the neighborhoods years ago. But the Good Humor bars remained, in grocery stores and gas stations.

Toasted Almond is the best. I'll sock you in the kisser if you try to argue otherwise. But be that as it may.

So the Good Humor boxes are pulled out of the grocery bag last week, and we notice that the company is now paying homage to its past by including, on each carton, a color drawing of a Good Humor Man from days gone by, serving some kids from his truck. Pretty cool.

Until we opened one of the white plastic bags encasing a Toasted Almond.

I was tempted to tell my wife to throw it back, and tell him to get his old man.

If the Toasted Almond bar was made of wool, and you put it into the dryer, then the result would be what we held in our hands.

I was thinking I might be able to consume it with one generous bite, it looked that small.

My wife and I said it almost simultaneously.

"Look how SMALL!"

It was also noted that the price was conspicuously not smaller.

One nifty thing about the new Good Humor bars: you'll never have to worry about them melting before you can finish them.

I noticed the same phenomenon with the Bun chocolate bars. My folks gobbled them up when I was a kid. They came (still do) in a square-ish wrapper, the bar itself setting on a flimsy cardboard bottom. Of course, I remember the Bun bars as being the size of a paper plate.

But still, they're much smaller than they used to be, despite my glorification of them in my mind.

Again, the price doesn't appear to be shrinking.

I know that we sometimes remember licking suckers the size of hubcaps and watching movies on screens that went from horizon to horizon. I get that sometimes we exaggerate the sizes of things from our childhood.

But the Good Humor bar is getting smaller.

Either that, or my stomach is getting bigger.

Hey!! Wait a minute....

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


So Conan O'Brien is concerned about being party to the demise of "The Tonight Show." Admirable, but much ado about nothing.

Look how hard NBC tried to kill "Saturday Night Live" and THAT'S still standing.

Besides, if what Jack Paar did failed to hurt "Tonight," then nothing will.

O'Brien is the guy who's now the odd man out, with Jay Leno apparently returning to 11:35 p.m., shoving "Tonight"---the show Conan waited years to host---back to 12:05 a.m.

O'Brien is having none of it. He says that "Tonight" at 12:05 just isn't "Tonight." He's right, technically; it's "Tomorrow" if it starts past midnight. And NBC killed that off over 20 years ago (remember Tom Snyder?).

I give Conan props, though, for taking a stand. He was promised "Tonight" and everything, he presumed, that came with it---not the least of which was its starting time, right after the local news, as it's been for decades. A 30-minute wait, with Leno essentially acting as O'Brien's warm-up act, wasn't exactly what Conan had in mind. Don't blame him.

But I think it's a little dramatic to say that "Tonight" at 12:05 is doomed for failure. Maybe doomed for poorer ratings, but not its total destruction.

"SNL" debuted in 1975---yes, that would be over 34 years ago, kiddies---and if it can survive the wretched product that it pumped out for most of the 1980s, then it can survive just about anything.

O'Brien (top) and Paar: 50 years apart, controversy about "Tonight" swirls around them

Paar quit "Tonight" for about a month in 1960, angry over NBC's decision to censor a joke of his, without telling him first. But Jack not only quit---he did it on the air. It was February 11, 1960.

"I've made a decision about what I'm going to do. I'm leaving The Tonight Show," Paar said that night. "There must be a better way to make a living than this, a way of entertaining people without being constantly involved in some form of controversy. I love NBC [...] But they let me down."

And off Paar walked, leaving flabbergasted announcer Hugh Downs to finish the show.

When Paar returned on March 7, he opened with the now famous, "As I was saying before I was interrupted..." The first four words became the title of Paar's autobiography.

Paar admitted on his first night back that his quitting "Tonight", on the air no less, was less than mature.

"Leaving the show was a childish and perhaps emotional thing. I have been guilty of such action in the past and will perhaps be again. I'm totally unable to hide what I feel. It is not an asset in show business, but I shall do the best I can to amuse and entertain you and let other people speak freely, as I have in the past."

Almost 50 years later, controversy has returned to "Tonight." Again, the network is to blame.

But they can't kill "Tonight." They might just maim it, however.

Monday, January 18, 2010

An Awarding Experience

The world famous film director was in a jazz club, in New York, blowing into his clarinet. He did that from time to time---kind of a Bill Clinton type with the woodwind. Not professional but not a rank amateur, either.

It was a Monday night, and since he blew the clarinet on Mondays, why should this one be any different?

Even if it was Oscar Monday, and even if the film director was up for an award that evening.

Woody Allen caused a stir when he blew off the Academy Awards in the late-1970s. His brethren found it odd that he couldn't rearrange his schedule for such an event.

Several years before, the actor Marlon Brando, protesting the treatment of Native Americans, boycotted the Oscars, even though he was up for Best Actor for "The Godfather." Sure enough, Marlon won, and in his stead was a young Indian girl, who delivered Brando's message of protest while the crowd murmured loudly.

Stars using awards ceremonies to either further agendas or make statements never did sit too well with me. It's showing a distinct lack of respect for the business that, frankly, pays your bills.

It's a captive audience, though, when you're at the podium and you have the floor. It's a tempting thing, I'm sure, to pontificate about something that is important to you. But life is full of temptations that shouldn't be acted upon, you know?

I bring this up because I adored Robert Downey Jr.'s acceptance speech last night at the Golden Globe Awards. Downey won for his Sherlock Holmes movie, and he eschewed the standard, boring thank you stuff.

"You think I'm going to thank anybody? Pretend like it's a collaborative effort? They needed ME, man!"

Downey's tongue was planted firmly in his cheek, and it was funny as hell.

Robert Downey Jr.

I made brief mention of Downey a short while ago, in a post about Charlie Sheen and his troubles. I wrote that Downey ought to be consulted by Sheen, to find out how the latter can get his life back on track.

What I also said was that Robert Downey Jr. ought to be thankful that he's alive, let alone working again, after his years of substance abuse. And I'm sure that he is. He looks great, and has been acting in some acclaimed films of late. His acceptance speech was brilliant: funny, irreverent, but also self-deprecating. If it was off the top of his head, I'm even more impressed.

Downey's spiel was what more acceptance speeches should be like. God bless those who thank everyone, but those types get boring after awhile. Give me the unexpected, the witty, the winking.

And give me more lines like this one from host Ricky Gervais.

"I like a drink as much as the next man," Gervais said during the show. "Unless the 'next man' is Mel Gibson!"

Love it!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Friday's Favs

(Note: every Friday I'll post a favorite rant from the archives)

from 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!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Limited Options

Well, look at what term limits has wrought.

The governor's race in Michigan is more wide open than a 24-hour diner. In my almost 40 years of following politics in the state, I don't recall a race with as many question marks this late in the game.

And it's late, alright---less than eight months to the primary. That used to be a long time. In this day of the marathon campaign, eight months with this little done is as nerve wracking as it is to a bride planning a wedding---who has no hall, no church, and no dress picked out.

No one has any money to run, nor can raise the loot. Or they're short on experience. Likely, they're both.

You can thank term limits for all this.

The first domino to topple is the incumbent herself, Jenny Granholm, who's being forced out after her maximum two terms.

Her Lt. Governor, John Cherry, quit the race last week, citing the usual---no dough, and little hope of raising it.

John Freeman, a former State Rep. from Madison Heights and a health care activist, bowed out, also from the Democrats' side. Reason? Imagine Freeman plunging his hands into his pants pockets and pulling the insides of those pockets out, empty.

Two of the folks who could have bankrolled a successful campaign---Wayne County Executive Bob Ficano and U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow---have already said thanks but no thanks.

Thanks to term limits, we now have a state legislature short on experience and, in turn, short on money. And, also in turn, unelectable. Even the House Speaker, Andy Dillon, considered the Dems' frontrunner by default, may struggle to raise cash.

The Republicans' presumed frontrunners, Attorney General Mike Cox and Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard, would appear not to have any money concerns---at least not now.

Before term limits, there would have been no shortage of candidates from the halls of Lansing from which to choose. That's how we got Jim Blanchard, and John Engler. And many before them.

Now, no one is allowed to be a state politician long enough to gain any foothold, support, or---most importantly---money.

Denise Ilitch

One person who might run on the Democratic side, who should have no trouble in the money department, is Denise Ilitch, daughter of Mike and current University of Michigan Regent. She was at the White House on Tuesday, part of testing the waters and gauging the support of the officials there. The prez himself dropped by, according to reports.

Yes sir, the guv race is wide open. But not because there are so many great candidates---because there are so few.

Thanks to term limits.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Jay Walking

Jay Leno is a great guy. He's one of the true good people in a business that is sorely lacking in them.

He's just not very funny.

Leno, whose 10:00 p.m. show on NBC just got the ziggy and will be moved back to its more familiar (and comfortable) 11:35 p.m. time slot, has run his course. At best, he was simply ill-suited for 10:00. At worst, his horrific ratings at the earlier slot is a portend of things to come, even when he moves back to 11:35.

It used to be that Leno ran neck-and-neck with Dave Letterman and was the Coke to Dave's Pepsi, or vice-versa. Now Jay is more like RC Cola. Maybe Diet RC Cola.

NBC had to pull the plug on Jay at 10:00. No, really---they had to. Or else they'd have affiliate reps from across the country storming 30 Rock with pitchforks and torches.

Jay Leno was a magician at 10:00 for the affiliates. He made their 11:00 news ratings go away.

There were some stations who fell from No. 1 to No. 3 in their market when it came to local news, all because of Leno's anemic lead-in. It was affecting their bottom line, because advertising dollars were vanishing.

The network couldn't go on any longer in that fashion.

So what happened?

The game plan was that moving Leno to 10:00 would expose him to a new audience, which, ironically, was old. The folks who turn in before 11:35 were to get a nightly dose of Leno, read: the seniors, or at least those above 50 years of age. The move to 10:00 was to open up all sorts of doors for Leno and his brand of humor.

Instead, it merely exposed him.

I like Jay Leno, I really do. He's comfortable. But he has short shelf life. He simply can't carry a 60-minute show anymore. That's very evident by the numbers of viewers who were a million miles away from NBC by the time 10:58 and the tease for the local 11:00 news came around.

Leno still gives a decent monologue. His delivery is still charming and even his constant and blatant glance toward his cue cards are forgivable by now. Jay does OK, until around 10:15 and later. And NBC hasn't had a 15-minute show on its airwaves since the Eisenhower Administration.

The nightly shticks were painful to watch, some of them. The others were tolerable. Even the physical setting---Jay and his guest sitting across from each other in comfy chairs like a photo opportunity between the president and a leader from a foreign country---fell flat. Jay's a behind-the-desk guy, like so many of his brethren. So put him behind a desk!

But this is 10:00 and you have to change for change's sake---or so NBC thought. They didn't have the guts to simply move Jay's 11:35 show, as is, and place it 95 minutes earlier on the schedule. I bet they wish they had now.

The punchline is that simply moving Leno back to 11:35, necessitating, by the way, moves by Conan O'Brien and Jimmy Fallon, may not be the panacea. There's no telling how many viewers Leno has lost, who may not come back, even at 11:35.

NBC took a gamble and it lost. I bet the network didn't think it was much of a gamble at all, however. Moving Jay Leno from 11:35 to 10:00 must have seemed relatively safe to them.

But they fixed that which was never broke, and monkeyed around with Leno's show so much as to make it almost unrecognizable to Jay's faithful viewers. It was a double whammy; NBC failed to impress the untapped viewer, and also drove away the regulars.

That's quite a feat.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Friday's Favs

(Note: every Friday I'll post a favorite rant from the archives)

from April 23, 2009

His John Hancock

If I was a retail worker in the late-18th century, and John Hancock came in to my establishment and signed a check, then it would replicate the feeling I had that night in the drugstore in Ann Arbor, circa 1983.

I used to work the liquor counter and help the pharmacists, part-time, at Perry Drugs when I wasn't attending classes and parties at Eastern Michigan University. Not necessarily in that order, by the way.

EMU is in Ypsilanti, just a beer can's throw away from Ann Arbor, which is where I worked. Ann Arbor isn't all that far from Plymouth, which will become relevant shortly, I promise.

So I'm hanging out, chatting with the "druggist" (remember when we called them that?), late one evening, maybe after 10:00.

A man strides to the liquor counter and wants to buy some, well, liquor. Natch.

I load him up, with some of our most expensive vodkas and whiskeys, and he wants to pay with a traveler's cheque. Fine.

With a traveler's cheque, the clerk simply needs to have the customer sign it, below the signature that was placed on it originally when it was purchased from the bank. To make sure they match up. And to authorize payment.

So the man, perhaps in his 60s, signs it, quite eloquently. I mean, the signature flowed out of his pen as if it had been expelled by a machine.

He leaves, but I can't stop looking at the signature. It seemed like one that I should know.

But how? From where? I'd never seen the man--I didn't think, before in my 20-year-old life.

The evening droned on.

About 30 minutes later, I did another transaction and, upon opening the cash register, I saw the signed traveler's cheque. It was teasing me now. I looked at the signature again.


Then, for whatever reason, it hit me. Like the proverbial ton of bricks.

I opened my wallet. Withdrew a dollar bill. 1977 series.


The signature on the traveler's cheque matched, exactly, the one on my dollar bill.

The man who came into my store 30 minutes earlier, the one who bought some of our finest booze, was none other than W. Michael Blumenthal, Secretary of the Treasury under President Carter.

Here's the signature: (found it on Google)

Blumenthal was in charge of the old Burroughs Corporation, which became Unisys. And Burroughs was located in Plymouth. (Told ya it would be relevant).

Excited by what happened, I ran into the office and told the pharmacist on duty.

"You'll never believe who was just in here!"

He wasn't as impressed as I was, if I remember correctly. Oh well.

To this day, I rue not making a photo copy of that traveler's cheque. Not to prove the story (though it would make a wonderful visual aid among company), but just to look at the damn thing from time to time.

Werner Michael Blumenthal: Secretary of the Treasury (1977-79)

It's one of my favorite stories to tell, the night Mike Blumenthal bought liquor from me without me knowing it. And signing his traveler's cheque precisely the way it appeared on U.S. currency for all those years.

I was nearly knocked over by actor Donald Sutherland in downtown Detroit, at the old Trapper's Alley, when he was in town filming The Rosary Murders. He and I bumped into each other, literally, at the base of some steps. He's a tall dude.

There've been other brushes with celebrity that I've had, some that have occurred naturally in my role as a freelance writer. But none can top that night in Ann Arbor, some 26 years ago, when I sold booze to the former Secretary of the Treasury.

Blumenthal didn't say much, that I can recall. Just picked out his libations, signed his cheque eloquently, and went on his way.

I'll never get tired of telling this story. I'm sorry.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The King at 75

We don't have to wonder too much about how Elvis Presley would look like at age 75, because he looked more like that than he did 42, which was his age at death.

The King would be 75 this Friday, if he hadn't accelerated his demise with a cornucopia of drugs and bad diet.

We get besieged twice a year by all things Elvis---right around now, and again in mid-August, denoting his death on the 16th in 1977.

But this is a biggie---the diamond anniversary of Presley's birth in Tupelo, Mississippi.

Presley, at his best, was maybe the sexiest man alive. You can debate until the wee hours his actual musical talent, but he was an entertainer, not necessarily a musician. And yes, there's a difference.

But there was no debating his sexual allure. Perhaps he never looked better than in 1968, when his nationally-televised "comeback" concert showed him as a 33-year-old, smirking, playful, good-humored man who engaged his live audience in a very intimate, "in the round" setting.

Some celebrities, I believe, simply weren't destined to grow old. They live forever in our minds as young, attractive, and iconic. Marilyn Monroe would be 83 years old today. Can you imagine?

Oh, Presley did indeed grow old, but not for very long, and not very publicly. But there were some awkward, clear-your-throat-and-look-the-other-way moments. One of them happened in the Pontiac Silverdome.

It was New Year's Eve, 1975, and The King played the Dome (it was actually called PonMet back then---short for Pontiac Metropolitan Stadium, its original name). Sometime early in the show, Presley made a signature move and....rrrrip! He burst through a seam in his pants.

The crowd waited politely while Presley changed into a backup pair of pants.

This was about 20 months before he passed away, bloated and moody.

Presley, gettin' near the end

Whenever I think of Elvis, I think of a Johnny Carson joke.

It was around the time that the U.S. Postal Service came out with commemorative stamps of Presley---one that showed him as a young man and one that portrayed him older and more mature. The stamps came to be known as "young Elvis" and "old Elvis."

"I'm not going to say the mail is slow these days," Carson said during a monologue. "But I sent a letter using the 'young Elvis' stamp and by the time it arrived at its destination, it had the 'old Elvis' stamp on it."

Well, I thought it was funny.

What wasn't funny, of course, was the demise of a once healthy, once vibrant, once sexy beast of a man. All because of those damn drugs.

Elvis would be 75 this Friday. Not that there would be much shake, rattle, or roll left in him. There wasn't much at age 42, really.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Domino's Effect

Domino's Pizza is finally coming clean.

They've admitted, finally, what most of us have known to be true for decades: they have an inferior product.

Domino's is done trying to pull the wool over everyone's eyes; they're unveiling a new product---new sauce, crust, cheese, the works. TV ads are on the air now, with the dirty laundry there for all to see---and hear.

It's like Big Boy's saying their Slim Jim has been a fraud all these years. Or McDonald's sheepishly acknowledging that the Big Mac isn't all that.

Domino's, though, has pretty much done one thing and one thing only for most of their 40-plus years of existence. And now they're admitting that they couldn't even do that right.

I haven't had a Domino's pie since the 1980s, I reckon. It was the pie of choice in my dorm at Eastern Michigan University, because the joint was close and they offered up some ridiculous deals, like a large pizza with one item for three dollars. Pittman Hall was crawling with Domino's delivery men in those days, circa 1981-82.

The Detroit Tigers have been owned since 1983 by two men who made a lot of dough---pun probably intended---with a decidedly inferior pizza pie: Tom Monaghan (Domino's) and Michael Ilitch (Little Caesars). I've crabbed about Mr. I's pie in this space before.

I'm amazed that it took Domino's this long, frankly, to reinvent themselves, what with the glut of pizza hawkers around town.

But this isn't some New Coke marketing trick. Ann Arbor-based Domino's is changing, and I don't think there'll be a hue and cry to change back.

It's hard to put my finger on why I was never thrilled with Domino's pizza. Plus, it's been so long. But I do recall thinking that perhaps you'd be better off consuming the box in which it came.

This is serious business, to the tune of a $75 million ad campaign to say, basically, "We're sorry!"

"A lot of people love us, but some people think we can get better," says Domino's Chief Marketing Officer Russell Weiner. "We listened to them, and we changed our pizza."

Good for them, even if it's some 20 years overdue. But I think Weiner has it backwards: some love Domino's (though I'm dying to know who they are and if they've ever tasted another pizza before), but a lot think they can get better.

Domino's admits now that they've been selling garbage, essentially, for decades. Now if we could only get our government to do the same thing.