Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Help Ken and Tina land "The Best Job in the World"

Last April, I had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to travel on the first leg of The Amazing Race 13.  One of the teams who impressed me most was Ken and Tina Greene, the couple billed as "separated."

As anyone who watched the show's exciting finale undoubtedly remembers, Ken and Tina may have lost out on the $1 million prize by a mere 7 minutes, but they won by rediscovering their relationship along the way.  Ken re-proposed to Tina right there on the finish line, providing one of the show's all-time most emotional moments.

Now, as one of their possible next steps, Ken and Tina are trying to land what is billed as "The Best Job in the World," as the caretakers of Australia's Hamilton Island in the Great Barrier Reef.  You can help them out by watching their video application, below, and then clicking here to cast your vote for team Greene.  And for more information on the couple themselves, visit www.kennyandtina.com.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Save the MPTF Hospital and Long-Term Care

To someone like me, who is currently struggling with the placement and long-term care of an elderly loved one, this message couldn't seem more timely or more personal.

You've undoubtedly heard of the Motion Picture & Television Fund's recent decision to close their hospital and Long Term Care facility on its famed Calabasas campus, a vital health-care institution established way back in 1921 by Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks.

Below, a video put together by Saving The Lives of Our Own, a group within the MPTF rallying for the patients' rights.  It's really compelling and moving.  To get involved, please visit www.SavingTheLivesOfOurOwn.org.

Monday, February 9, 2009

30 Rock Wins Big at the WGA Awards

On Saturday night in both New York and Los Angeles, the Writers Guild of America simultaneously handed out its annual awards.  The East Coast ceremony boasted such big names as 30 Rock's Tina Fey, Judah Friedlander and Jack McBrayer; Law & Order's S. Epatha Merkerson, Alana de la Garza, Linus Roache and Sam Waterston; comedy legends Jerry Stiller & Anne Meara; Curb Your Enthusiasm's Susie EssmanUgly Betty's Ana Ortiz; The Daily Show's Aasif Mandvi and John Oliver; Gilbert Gottfried; Bill IrwinDoubt screenwriter John Patrick Shanley; former thirtysomething star Polly Draper with her kids, "Naked Brothers" Matt and Alex Wolff; VH1's Paul F. Thompson; Oz creator Tom Fontana and Mad Men stars John Slattery and Talia Balsam.

As a "celebrity wrangler," my job was to pluck many of the presenters out of the audience and usher them backstage at just the right time.  It was a great excuse to share even a few moments with writers and actors I admire, and in the case of such greats as Stiller & Meara, have admired my whole life.

As far as winners, 30 Rock and Mad Men defeated all comers.  Early on in the night, Anne Meara referenced Tina Fey in the audience, begging for her to employ Jerry Stiller on her show, to get him out of the house.  (Although Meara let the audience know that that was merely banter scripted on her cue cards.)  Later, Tina was there to applaud as two of her writers, John Riggi and Andrew Guest, won the Best Episodic Comedy award for the episode entitled "Succession."  Tina was then up on stage with all her writers when 30 Rock took the trophy for Best Comedy Series - - and then again, accepting on behalf of Saturday Night Live, the Comedy/Variety series winner.  She was only involved on the periphery of SNL this fall, she said, when the show produced 8 live episodes (including those Thursday night specials) in the space of 6 weeks.  "It was great to see those f---ers have to work that hard," Tina had to admit.

And of course the other show which continues to have writers -- and everyone else -- abuzz is AMC's drama Mad Men.  We got to see one of that series' handsome stars, John Slattery, on stager twice on Saturday night:  first, as he and wife Talia Balsam presented the awards for Long Form Adaptation and Long Form Original, but more excitingly a second time, as Slattery again took to the stage on behalf of Mad Men, the winner for Best Drama Series.

In other "wrangling" news from my viewpoint, Ana Ortiz looked spectacularly beautiful, at I think 4 months pregnant, in a vintage gown with just a hint of baby bump under her pink skirt.  Jack McBrayer turned out to be adorably like his character, 30 Rock's NBC page Kenneth:  when I introduced myself to him and told him I'd be coming to get him later, his answer had a very Southern, very friendly and formal "sir" in it.  "Yes sir."  And of course, then there's Susie Essman (who by the way says things are going "very well" in the filming of this newest season of Curb, which started back in December.)

I had brought her backstage a little early, and so Susie was given her cue cards of her category's nominees while John Patrick Shanley was accepting the Ian McLellan Hunter Award for lifetime achievement in writing, with a speech that harkened back all the way to the drama of the ancient Greeks.  At the end, Susie, who had been studying her cards, looked up and asked me, "What the f--- did he say?"  THAT's why I love her!

Friday, February 6, 2009

I saw it in the window and just couldn't resist it!

If you watched PBS' excellent recent multi-part series, Make 'Em Laugh, you saw a clip of one of TV's longest sustained laugh breaks in history, from CBS' classic The Carol Burnett Show (1967-78).

Interestingly, the laugh came not from a punchline, but from an ingenious visual, as, in one of their beloved movie parodies, Carol and company sent up Gone With the Wind in 1976.  In "Went With the Wind," "Starlet," in order to impress "Rat" Butler, frets over what to wear.  Of course, she ends up wearing the drapes -- thanks to a brilliant idea from costume designer Bob Mackie, curtain rod and all.

Now, 33 years later, Mattel has come out with a strikingly lifelike doll of Starlet and her famous green velvet curtain ensemble.  This limited edition collectible from the Barbie Pink Label collection is 11.5 inches tall, with an outfit re-created by Bob Mackie to match his famous original.  Click here for a link to the doll on amazon.com.

I have a few of Mattel's Barbie-as-Lucy dolls, and I hadn't known that the company was even planning on issuing a likeness of another of TV's great comediennes, Carol Burnett.  But, to quote Starlet, "I saw it in the window and just couldn't resist it!"

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Enjoy Sabor de Soledad

Now with more bull semen!

Monday, February 2, 2009

On the set of CSI

Last month during the Television Critics' Convention, I had the opportunity to go on the set of CSI and pose among the show's realistic props.  For one thing, TV's version of a city's crime lab is, sadly, often better-funded and has better equipment than real labs in many cities.  And in the photos at right, can you spot which corpse is a real live human, and which is just a mass of latex?  Here's a hint:  when he opened his eyes after the shot was taken, I jumped out of my skin.

In the upcoming issue of CBS' Watch magazine, I interviewed Laurence Fishburne about taking over the reins as the new guy in the CSI crime lab.  And for the current issue on newsstands, I checked in with the show's writers, as they were writing their goodbye to William Petersen's character, to compile a list of the top "deadly dozen" Gil Grissom moments.  Click here for the story.

Long Live the Queen!

This past Saturday night, just as HBO was unspooling her hilarious new comedy special Long Live the Queen, the self-proclaimed "lovable Queen of Mean" Lisa Lampanelli (in truth one of the nicest people in showbiz) was hosting a premiere party of her own, filled with friends and family, at New York's Friars' Club.

Frank and I were so happy to be invited to watch the special live, along with Lisa's mother, father, equally loud and funny sister Nancy, her brother and assorted other Lampanellii and Lampanelliites.

The special -- taped before a live audience in December in Santa Rosa, CA -- airs again on HBO on Feb. 3, 6, 9, 12, 16 and 18.

The "Bad Road" Not Taken

A few months back, I had the chance to see all six existing episodes of the comedy 12 Miles of Bad Road, which HBO had originally picked up, to much fanfare, and then mysteriously cancelled in mid production.

The series was created by now-legendary Designing Women scribe Linda Bloodworth-Thomason, and had a first-rate cast.  Lily Tomlin.   Mary Kay Place.  Leslie Jordan.  Gary Cole.  And so many other fabulous actors you may not yet know by name, like Katherine LaNasa, Leigh-Allyn Baker (from Will & Grace), Eliza Coupe (now on Scrubs), Kim Dickens, Tara Karsian and Ilana Milicevic.

But more important than its amazing pedigree, 12 Miles of Bad Road was simply just a fun, funny show.  With the timing of its production, it seems to have been at least partially a victim of the writers' strike of 2007-08.  But HBO's cancellation of a series in mid-production is exceedingly rare.  Remember, they even let that turkey John From Cincinnati hit the airwaves.

It's a mystery why the network never let 12 Miles find the fans -- like the Designing Women devotees and Lily Tomlin adorers -- who were waiting for it.  Here's the best I can do:  a trailer for the never-to-be show (unless HBO relinquishes it to another network, I hope, I hope!):

Sunday, February 1, 2009

The Office Jumps the Shark?

Back in the old days, networks used to use the Super Bowl as a launching pad for brand new series.

Sometimes, it worked.  (Remember the premiere of The Wonder Years in 1988?)  And sometimes, it didn't.  (Remember Davis Rules in 1991?  Anyone?)

Then later began the super-sized, "special" episode phenomenon.  Following the big game in 1996, Julia Roberts turned up on Friends.  People at the time criticized the episode for being overblown, overwrought.  Me, I still kinda liked it.

But tonight's The Office?  The weakest episode of this normally amazing series I've ever seen.  I had read interviews with some of the show's producers, who claimed that they wanted tonight's one hour installment to be more of a "standalone" episode, so as to draw in fans who don't already know, for example, the saga of Jim and Pam.  But what they ended up getting was a meandering and overblown (not to mention not very credible) storyline, with its non-sequitur elements pressed together with so much adhesive tape.  

It must be hard to write a show like The Office, to find new ways for Jim to torture Dwight, for Dwight and Michael to show their social ineptitude, without going over the top.  The show has approached -- and maybe even crossed -- that line before.  Remember Michael's atrocious behavior at Phyllis' wedding?  At the time, I didn't believe that even someone as socially retarded as Michael would make such a scene.

Now tonight -- and this is my largest problem with the episode as a whole -- I think we have the clearest example of The Office going too far.  Dwight has officially crossed the line from inappropriate to murderous and sociopathic.  Luring Phyllis several miles away from the office and leaving her there, so as to force her to walk back (as Dwight did earlier this season) is one thing.  But setting the building on fire, and jeopardizing his coworkers' lives?

And here's the other thing you learn about corporate America:  it's very hard to get yourself fired for cause.  If you're hard-working and competent, you'll often get screwed, blamed for something, laid off.  But if you're crazy, or if you drink, you're pretty much safe.  UNLESS: you do something like set the office on fire.  If your actions leave the company vulnerable to a lawsuit -- and it's an amazing oversight that Stanley, as he mentions not being able to afford to retire, doesn't even THINK of suing -- you would definitely be fired.  David Wallace would never have given Dwight a second chance.  And DEFINITELY not a third, after he stabbed and disemboweled the CPR dummy with a concealed knife in the workplace.  Another big no-no.

And then suddenly, after all that, tonight's storyline morphed into being just about Michael and his sudden self-knowledge.  For one thing, did anyone not see it coming that Michael would be offended by the roast?  And that would be forgiveable, had the roast been at all funny.  The Office excels in a combination of awkward-funny.  The roast was just plain awkward.

All that said, there were moments I loved -- Dwight's tricking Phyllis into giving her signature, and anything involving Cloris Leachman, of course.  

But what did you all think?  (And by the way:  Hilary Swank:  hot, or not?!)