Thursday, February 24, 2011

Heeeeree's NOT Johnny!

Johnny Carson is dead.

No news here, I know, but I mean more than just Carson dead in a physical sense, which occurred just over six years ago.

I mean, Johnny is dead in the same way as pay phones, drive-in theaters, and chivalry.

Specifically, Johnny Carson is dead in a "Who's good at hosting the Oscars?" sort of way.

Carson did it brilliantly---emceeing the Academy Awards five times (1979-82, 1984), providing the perfect blend of wit, sarcasm, irony and class as he shepherded the sometimes seemingly interminable production through the evening.

Not that others didn't host the show with aplomb---Billy Crystal comes to mind---but this blog post serves to lament that there just isn't another Carson out there today who can do what Johnny did during the Oscars telecast, which takes place again this Sunday night.

David Letterman gave it the old college try on more than one occasion, but he had the smarm factor that Johnny wouldn't, couldn't bring to the podium.

Johnny Carson, for example, would never had tried the whole "Uma, Oprah" thing.

Yes, it's another occasion where I'm living in the past, being curmudgeonly and cranky about today's entertainment landscape.

This year, Oscar will try co-hosts: James Franco and Anne Hathaway, who looks like she could have posed for the svelte trophy and who looks like she weighs about as much as Oscar does, too.

But tell me: who is Carson-like right now, in the entertainment biz?

Carson, during one of his five turns hosting the Oscars

Who is self-effacing, disarming, funny, and mystical, as Johnny was?

Regis Philbin, who's retiring from his morning talk show he co-hosts with Kelly Ripa?

Anyone else?

Regis might do a good job if ever given the Oscar reins, which is something I'd like to see, actually.

Steve Martin wasn't a bad host, but he was an insider.

Johnny Carson wasn't replaced by Jay Leno, and he really wasn't replaced as Oscars host, despite Crystal's funny takes.

The other alluring thing about Carson as Oscars host was that you hardly ever saw Johnny outside of his "Tonight Show" milieu. He didn't exactly make the rounds when he wasn't doing "Tonight" in Burbank.

So whenever he was on television outside the comforts of his studio---and wearing a tuxedo, no less---you knew something special was happening.

It was most certainly something special when Carson hosted the Oscars.

So here's to Franco and Hathaway. Godspeed, you two.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The British Are Coming!! (Again)

What's the fascination in TV advertising with those who sport a British or Australian accent?

This isn't an anti-UK post, bloke, but I must protest.

Seems there must have been some market research done, that says us Yankees are more inclined to yank out our credit card or rush to the nearest big box store if we hear said items being hawked by those who hail from across the pond or Down Under.

How else to explain the influx of voices I am hearing lately on the telly?

Before, the tack du jour was to yell. That's all. Just simply shout EVERYTHING YOU WANTED TO SAY IN HOPES THAT VOLUME WOULD TRUMP COMMON SENSE.

The late Billy Mays yelled at us, as he sold us on those great TV offers. He was hardly the first TV pitchman to literally "give a shout out."

Now it's not so much shouting as it is the apparent allure of the British or Australian accent.

You may not be aware of what I'm talking about, but give the TV commercials these days a listen.

There's the GEICO gecko, for example. The dude selling us the Magic Bullet food chopper. And many others.

We've always been battling those British Invasions. They haven't really stopped for all that long since the music version of the 1960s.

Did you see who's replaced the venerable Larry King on CNN, following Larry's retirement?

It's none other than Piers Morgan, another British import.

I think we as Americans are still fascinated and charmed by the British dialect and demeanor.

Two words: Cary and Grant.

Was there anyone on the silver screen more suave and charming and debonair than the famed actor Grant?

But back to the advertising on TV.

Piers Morgan: The latest British invader, and Larry King's successor

I can see the impact someone like Cary Grant would have on our psyche, but I confess to not being moved by a British accent when I'm being sold goods.

I remember when the comedic actor John Cleese (Monty Python) did radio and TV voice-overs for Callard and Bowser, a British candy company. They were fun to listen to, but because it was John Cleese and John Cleese is freaking hilarious.

It wasn't because Cleese is British.

Again, I'm not angry or crying foul here. It's just something I've noticed.

The advertising execs apparently have been told by someone that they have a better chance of selling goods and services if the person doing the voice-over spells labor "labour."

Then again, it's better than all that yelling.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Promo Seltzer

Tell me, what would be your annoyance factor if, while trying to watch television in your living room, someone occasionally steps in front of the screen, making hand gestures and other things to call attention to themselves?

Pretty flipping annoying, right?

Then why do some television networks insist on pumping their programs in the CGI version of what I just described?

You've been there---watching whatever on wherever, and you get momentarily startled by a moving image that is doing something in the lower right corner of the screen.

Your eyes can't help but go over there, and it's a graphic or an image of a person (or people) dancing or moving or waving their arms, calling attention to their show, which is sometimes several days away.

Some networks, in addition to the moving images, simply leave the programming information for what they're promoting on the screen for the entire duration of what you're currently watching. Though that's easier to ignore because it's just text. But still.

Again, it's often not even the show that's coming up next---it's a few days out yet.

So why would network bosses insist on distracting their viewers from what they're currently watching? It isn't enough that there are minutes upon minutes of time to accomplish this during, you know, commercial breaks?

Ahh, I know---much of America runs away from the TV during the interminable breaks. You have, after all, sometimes up to five minutes to get stuff done before your show decides to grace you with its reappearance.

Especially in this day and age of DVRs that fast forward and rewind, it's easy to zoom past commercials on programs you've pre-recorded.

So those slime ball network execs figured out a way to get their precious promos in, in a way that is fast forward-proof: emblazoning them on the screen during programming.

The family and I were trying to watch something on WEtv the other night. I say "trying" because that's exactly what we were doing---thanks to repeated moving images of Joan and Melissa Rivers popping up in the lower right corner.

The two of them were literally trying to distract us. Their arms were flailing. They shoved and pushed each other.


We know you're trying to watch your movie, but LOOK AT US!!

This would occur once every five minutes or so, if I had to guess.

It's reprehensible, really.

Joan and Melissa Rivers, inanimate---unlike they were on my TV screen the other night, ad nauseam

Like other things on television that start small and harmless, this has grown into a pandemic.

It amazes me that even things that are bad ideas end up being aped by other networks.

Doesn't anyone do market research anymore? Is the focus group dead?

And what's worse, these images started small from a size standpoint and now the TV folks are getting bolder and making them larger and larger.

It's off-the-charts annoying.

The TV advertising people used to hawk products with the alluring line of being able to try said products "in the privacy of your own home!"

Now, in grotesque irony, that privacy is now being invaded by the very same people who were touting it back in the day.

It's getting so you can't watch TV without being bombarded by not-so-subliminal promos for shows that are days away.

How long before the actual programs are on the lower right hand of the screen and the promos take center stage?

Don't answer that---I don't want to know.

Thursday, February 10, 2011


I don't know whether Christopher Lee should have resigned for cheating or for being stupid.

Either way, he's what he should be today: an ex-Congressman.

Lee, the Republican from New York, is the doofus who answered an ad on Craigslist---using his real name and personal e-mail address---under the category "Women for Men" and sent a photo of himself, shirtless, to a woman, declaring himself divorced and 39 years old.

Lee is married and 46, with kids.

Well, he has kids. The married part is rather tenuous right now.

Lee, observers say, had himself a bright future. He was young, up-and-coming within the party, and had landed a seat on the powerful, tax-writing Ways and Means Committee.

And there's that wife and kids thing---which is in of itself a blessing.

Now it might all be gone, because of Lee's cheating and/or stupidity.

It's a chicken-or-the-egg thing.

Is Lee more guilty of cheating, or of being a moron?

In other words, is he any more in the right if he had chosen to be more anonymous?

The reflex answer is to say no---Lee's indiscretion is the real crime here, not one of being less than smart about it.

It just goes to show, I suppose, the hubris some public figures have, which can certainly be confused for stupidity.

"I can do ANYTHING I want and it won't come back to haunt me!" he or she with the hubris seems to say.

Again Washington has a broken family and an embarrassed public official on its hands.

It didn't take Lee long to submit his resignation, by the way. In fact, he was a same day resigner, quitting the same day the website Gawker released the photos and let the cat out of the bag.

He issued his short statement---the one that we've heard before, that thanks the constituents and bids adieu as if nothing is truly wrong.

Like he just resigned because the mood had struck him.

Former Rep. Chris Lee, before and after he lost his mind

You'd like to say that a lesson has been learned here, but has it really?

You really think that the Christopher Lee cautionary tale will be the end of it?

It's not that we have cheating Congressmen. It's that we have cheating men, and always will.

It's like pasta.

Not all pasta is spaghetti, but all spaghetti is pasta.

Now just substitute "men" for pasta, and "cheaters" for spaghetti.

Oh, I know there are cheating women, too---but not nearly as many, and they're much smarter about it, to boot.

For now, the late night comedians have more fodder---they barely have to do any writing---and the Internet will be abuzz for a few days.

But no real lessons have been learned here. Just stay tuned and wait for the next tale to be revealed.

You might not even have to wait very long.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Chrysler's Longball

I won't be running out to buy a Chrysler 200. I won't be moving into the city of Detroit.

But I'm proud as hell of the spot that Chrysler heaped on us during the third quarter of Super Bowl XLV.

About 160 million people watched the game on TV, by the way, so it wasn't like the 2:00 ad was played to a private audience of Detroit backers.

Some of those non-Detroiters are beside themselves. They just can't stand anything portraying Detroit in anything close to a positive light.

That's OK; I suspect that there were far more who were bedazzled with the spot than who are hating on it today.

I had the unusual experience of both watching the spot AND later strictly listening to it, minus the visual images.

I heard the audio played on the radio, and still it was riveting, even without the gritty, architectural images of Detroit.

That's because the script was dynamic---perfectly acknowledging Detroit's foibles along with pointing out that it's those very foibles that help us make great cars.

It also called out those who've written and said bad things about the city, many of whom have probably never even set foot within the city limits.

More than once I've heard people use the "goosebumps" word when it comes to describing the effect the ad had on them.

I can see that.

I happen to know the doorman featured in the ad---Chris Roddy, who mans the door at the Guardian Building downtown. Chris looked good!

So did the city, brought to the viewers by way of mainly architecture.

That's another thing that impressed me so much about the spot: the distinct lack of people in it was a strength, not a weakness.

The script spoke mainly about the human struggles the citizens have endured, and why those struggles make us more qualified than you might think to produce luxury cars.

Yet there were precious few people in the ad, and while that may seem to defeat the purpose, it didn't, because the combination of words, visuals, and music was so damn powerful.

And having Eminem step out of the car as a surprise was perfect. You couldn't have picked a better individual, because he cuts across several demographics.

Eminem's appearance at the end of the ad was a stroke of brilliance

I couldn't care less what others around the country think about the ad and about our city.

That's because most of them already have the ad absorbed into their subconscious, me thinks.

I'm clearly biased, but I think the Chrysler 200 ad we saw Sunday will go down as one of the most ballyhooed Super Bowl spots. Ever.

It was played during a football game, but I'm going to use a baseball analogy.

Chrysler and its ad agency hit a home run.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Great Centurion

Whatever one thinks of Ronald Reagan, I submit this without too much fear of contradiction.

He was a much better president than he was an actor.

That's about as far as I'll go, and as far as a lot of other people will go.

There are many others, as you know, who'll go much further than that.

The Gipper's 100th birthday is almost upon us. Reagan was born on February 6, 1911.

He was 69 when he was elected president in 1980, and almost 70 when he took the oath of office.

Reagan was among the eldest of presidents, on the cusp of turning 78 when he gave way to George Bush I.

I feel bad for the Reagan legacy, no matter what you think of it, because those who are enamored of him have unwittingly cheapened it by going overboard with their exultation.

The pro-Reagan zealots want everything to be named after him, and then some. They want him on currency. They want him added to Mt. Rushmore. And that's just the beginning.

All this does is make the fence-sitters and the anti-Reagan folks look at the Reagan Years with disdain, when that's not even fair.

Ronald Reagan, and I've said this before, was probably the right president at the right time for the country. I didn't always agree with him, but I had to admire his relationship with the American people.

Reagan had a "get tough" approach to the ne'er do-wells in the world, and it gave the United States a much-needed shot in the arm, coming on the heels of the emasculation caused by the Iranian hostage crisis.

I'm deadset against Reaganomics, but I can almost understand, at least a little, those who would support it.

Part of that is because of Reagan himself, who could tweak his opponents with a wink and not come off as mean-spirited or nasty.

Reagan, more than any president in recent history not named Richard Nixon, enjoyed the power of mandate when he buried Walter Mondale in the 1984 election. It was a landslide of monumental proportions, and by 1986 Reagan's mystique was at its strongest.

Today's Republicans have latched onto Reagan as the Democrats used to do with the Kennedy years of the early-1960s. Tit for tat---I'll give you that.

But I still think the Reagan fans have carried it too far, and have made their hero into more of a caricature than what he really was, which was one of the most effective, relevant presidents of the 20th century.

While you could make an argument that the Reagan fanaticism is more reflective on the fanatics than Reagan himself, it nonetheless tarnishes the man's legacy.

Ronald Reagan was the right president at the right time. And much of that was for what he accomplished, not merely his name and image. He was more substance than style---more than you might want to believe.

I just wish his admirers would tone it down, because all they're doing is making folks sneer at a legacy that should be embraced more warmly.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Snow Time Like a Blizzard

Most snowstorms are like lumbering elephants. It's hard for one to catch you unawares.

There's really no such thing as a sudden, unexpected big heaping of snow. You don't get caught in a snow shower, like you can with rain. The skies don't open one afternoon and before you blink, there's two inches of fluff on the ground.

No, snowstorms announce their presence ahead of time, like a courteous guest alerting you that he's planning on stopping by in a couple of days. And he'll be knocking, whether you're home or not.

Which is a good thing, I suppose. The advanced warning signs give the Chicken Little weather people plenty of opportunities to run screaming down the streets and yelling into the radio microphones, telling us to take cover and to buy provisions---not necessarily in that order.

The impending, Great Snowstorm of 2011 is apparently on its way, having announced its intentions as early as Saturday night.

I'm not sure how it works. Maybe the chief meteorologist at the National Weather Center gets a text from the storm.

"C u Tuesday LOL"

Or something like that.

Regardless, someone is the first to know about it, and in this day and age of Internet and mobile phones with Internet access, it doesn't take much to spread the word. One tweet on Twitter usually does the trick.

The stores around town (I live in metro Detroit) have been swamped over the past couple of days with people smartly buying all sorts of stuff they feel they'll need in order to survive the blizzard. Snowstorms are good for the economy, too!

The kids, of course, are about to burst out of their skin. Snow days are glorious things to those from K-12. We all know the giddiness when your school's district's name appears on the crawl at the bottom of the TV screen in the morning.

But technology has made its mark there, too. We subscribe to a texting service through the WDIV-TV (channel 4) website, so as soon as the decision is made to close Warren Consolidated Schools, my phone gets pinged. Sometimes that ping comes at 10:00 the night before; sometimes, at 4:00 a.m.

The great New York City blizzard of 1888

If you have all that you need, you keep your power on, and have nowhere to go, a blizzard can be a nice, cozy thing. Even the chore of removing the snow isn't all bad, if you go slow and pace yourself.

It's nice that snowstorms traipse across the country with the speed of a turtle. And it's nice that they're courteous, to boot.

Give us plenty of time to get ready and/or worry, take bets on the number of inches that will fall, and fantasize about a day off from work and/or school.

Brace yourself. It's going to be a bumpy ride.

Or so we're told.