get them out of here!

In 1968, Andy Warhol famously predicted that “in the future, everyone will be world-famous for fifteen minutes.” Here’s the problem: nobody is content with fifteen minutes anymore. Used to be, quasi-celebrities understood when their fifteen minutes of fame had elapsed. Tawny Kitaen rolled around on the hood of a Jaguar in 1985, and then she mercifully disappeared. And it’s not like Whistle Pops ever made a comeback. They had their moment.

I remember watching “Match Game” in the seventies, and though I didn’t have the razor-sharp pop-culture awareness I have now, even then I would see ‘celebrities’ and think “why are these people famous?” Oh, I get it…they’re famous because they’re celebrities.And they’re celebrities because they’re famous. And the dog chases its tail, and so on, and so on, and blah blah blah.

Now, I’m kinda old-school when it comes to language. Well, except for using ‘kinda‘ and ‘old-school’. I can’t help but have the nagging feeling that if one is to be called a ‘celebrity,’ then one should have done something worthy of being CELEBRATED!And even the definition of ‘celebrity’ has been watered down to where most reality ‘stars,’ to rework a Dorothy Parker quote, run “the gamut of talent from A to B.”

NBC even had a show called “I’m A Celebrity—Get Me Out Of Here!” I still remember the promo for the show this week began with the most promising tease I have ever heard: Ten celebrities are dropped in the jungle. Unfortunately, that phrase was not followed by and are left there to die. Now that would be ‘must-see TV.’ Renew it every year, and every year we would get rid of ten more barnacles on the hull of American culture.

Seriously, I’ve always had a problem with reality TV (and remember the days when ‘reality’ and ‘TV’ were two different things?). If you’re going to put people in dangerous situations, in theory to see if they can survive, then I say, let it play out. Don’t give us some deus ex video where we know that if someone gets their ass bitten by a poisonous tree lizard they’ll end up ok—let’s see if they can really survive.

Tell me ‘Survivor’ wouldn’t be more compelling if, after dividing the attention-mongers into teams, the camera crews and host simply packed up and left them on the island. A couple of years later, send the crew back in to see if that annoying investment banker or the plucky waitress have morphed into Brando at the end of “Apocalypse Now.” You want to deprive these people of the basics, take away the cameras–see if they can survive without attention. It would have all the wacky of “Lord of The Flies,”, but with commercials.

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pitch meeting

I watch a lot of tv, and I have fond memories of fall. Every fall as a kid I remember the TV Guide Fall Preview Issue, when times were simpler and there was a hell of a lot less to watch. You kinda felt like if a new show was gonna make it, it was your responsibility to watch. Shows like ‘Cheers’ started with low ratings, but because there weren’t 200 channels and internet shows and shows on your cell phone–well, networks were willing to let an audience grow.

I realize the big three networks are dinosaurs, but why are so many new network shows every year so incredibly, jaw-droppingly LAME? It can’t be lack of originality, because any studio or network head would tell you that they’re constantly looking for cutting-edge ideas and fresh faces. So all I can figure is , maybe the life of a TV executive is so busy, they don’t have time to…think up new shit. So, for all you harried industry players out there, here’s a few show ideas (with casting suggestions) you can have for free.

“Survivor: Idol”:

This can’t miss concept merges two unbeatable shows into one–once the 12 finalists on ‘American Idol’ are chosen, they are dropped off on a remote island and must find a way to survive. They must also find their own way off the island.

“Hey, Stop That! ”
A guy (maybe Chris Walken, if he’ll do episodic) goes around L.A. yelling at street people. In the pilot, he yells at that guy who wears a trashcan lid as a hat.

“The David Spade Mystery Hour”

Roundtable discussion in which scholars, philosophers and Hollywood insiders try to determine why David Spade keeps getting work.

“You Bet Your Ass!”
Game show where losers are forced into prostitution. Maybe have Saget host.

“Acquaintances”
A bunch of twenty-something slackers hang out in a coffeehouse. Since the show is filmed in a real coffeehouse, the characters are too self-absorbed to talk to each other. No dialogue should keep production costs down.

“One-Hour Martinizing”
The gritty reality of the dry-cleaning business. In the opener, guest star Joan Collins gives a terrific performance as a woman with a suspicious stain on her dress. Gandolfini would play the owner of the shop–maybe give him a mob background to lure ‘Sopranos’ fans.

“Don’t Try This At Home!”
Science show where host teaches kids about loose wires, oily rags and light sockets.

“That’s My Chick”
Lovable guy gets drunk and starts a bar fight with a different guy every Friday night. Tony Danza is probably available.

“America’s Next Great Surgeon”

Reality show in which 12 people with different backgrounds (auto mechanic, barista, carny) learn surgery over 12 weeks, leading to a finale in which the final two each perform a heart-lung transplant.

“CSI: Law And Order”

Merging of casts of 3 CSI series and 3 L&O series creates first network ‘super-show’  In the pilot, the thirty-seven stars just get in each other’s way as they try to solve the case of a genius mathematician (and former cop) who is also a sexual predator and serial arsonist wanted for cases in Las Vegas, Miami and New York.

“First Draft”

At the end of each episode, an actual television writer has an epiphany about television and commits suicide.

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let’s all go to the movies

I love movies, but I don’t get to many of them. Too much money for marginal product–spending ten bucks for a comedy movie with ten laughs is like spending fifteen bucks for a cd with four good songs. The reason people illegally download music is because buying music is too expensive.

In fact, if studios want to stop piracy, they should make movies cheaper. I think you should pay when you leave the theater, whatever percentage of the ticket price you think the movie was worth. You think the studios would keep turning out crap if their average take per person was eighty-three cents?

Major studios are relics, at any rate. I actually think the days of the Zanucks and the Goldwyns, as much as they may have squelched some visionary work, were better for the movie industry–for the fans. I don’t if any of you remember the Lily Tomlin-John Travolta vehicle (a poor word choice, since it implies it went somewhere) ‘Moment By Moment,’ which featured a horrifying hot tub encounter between the two leads. In the days of the big, mean studios, a guy in a suit would have taken the writers to lunch at the Brown Derby, and said “Interesting idea–but Lily does comedies, not romance.” That movie would have never happened.

Part of the problem is the deadening of the American film palate.  Some of the greatest films in history would never be greenlighted (greenlit?) today–too ‘talky’…too ‘complicated’…not ‘high-concept’ enough. Basically, the male American movie-going public likes two things in their movies–breasts, and explosions. I suppose that’s three things, because I’m not sure how well a movie featuring only one breast would do. But two breasts and some explosions–that’s box-office gold. If someone could made a movie about breasts that explode, it would be more popular than ‘Star Wars.’

I personally think that if a movie isn’t deep, it oughta be fun. If it isn’t deep or fun, then it’s just fifty million dollars that could have gone to Habitat for Humanity.  And if I’m watching at home, I usually give a movie the twenty minute test. If a movie hasn’t captured my attention in twenty minutes, I turn it off. I have seen five to fifteen minutes of more movies than I can count. Which is why I love surfthechannel.com.

Apparently Sweden has comparatively liberal copyright laws, because a site based there called SurfTheChannel has every movie and tv show ever filmed available for free. Okay, maybe not every, but oh my god do they have a lot. I’m not sure I should even be telling those not ‘in the know,’ but it’s THE GREATEST WEBSITE IN THE UNIVERSE. Missed a movie that came out last month? Loved the sitcom ‘He and She’ that only ran one season? It’s probably here. Now some of the movies were recorded by a dude with a cell phone in the front row, but they’re free! Just know that if you see a new movie has been added, watch it right away or you will see the dreaded phrase ‘removed for infringement.’

And before you start saying ‘Hey–you’re a creative artist…aren’t these people just stealing? Shouldn’t the people who did the movie be paid?”, let me just point out that for the VAST majority of movies being ’stolen,’ the people involved have already been paid. A couple of times. And there’s stuff you can’t buy, even if you wanted–I’d love to have a dvd of the first season of the second remake of ‘Twilight Zone,’ but I haven’t seen that at Blockbuster yet. Realistically, if I want to have a few friends over for a marathon of  bootlegged “Lou Grant,” I don’t think Ed Asner will have trouble paying his mortgage. And, not that this will stop the flaming outrage, but I do feel guilty about it.

Since I discovered surfthechannel.com, I haven’t been sleeping a lot lately. It’s been sensory overload–like an epileptic on Red Bull in Vegas. And I’ve been having strange dreams. Here’s the weirdness: I’ve had more than one dream which featured a celebrity–IN A CAMEO! Famous actors appear in my dreams, but they don’t have speaking roles. I’m in some surreal library/delicatessan/army recruiting office, and there’s Corbin Bernson! Understand–he’s not part of the ‘plot’ to my dream, he’s just…there. A couple nights ago, the thing I remember is that Christopher Meloni was in my dream–for no apparent reason. He wasn’t a part of the story–he just showed up in some of the scenes. Any amateur shink wanna take a shot at that?

The Chris Meloni dream is not the strangest dream I’ve had lately. When I was still working the day job, one night, in my dream, I woke up to my alarm, took the train to work, sat at my desk, took the train home, and got ready for bed. I had a dream in which nothing happened. In a world of infinite possibility, my mind created a dreamscape identical to my actual life! Now that’s wasted time. I felt almost cheated when I actually woke up.

My favorite film genre–movies where entire cities are destroyed, by aliens, some space virus, or some combination of cataclysmic natural disaster. Not sure why, but I get a real kick out of seeing places I’ve been to slapped around, and I find myself strangely inspired when all of society’s hopes rest on the shoulders of a b-level movie star, like Tom Skerrit, or one of the Quaids.

‘Volcano’ was great, simply because a volcanic eruption is one of the only horrible things that hasn’t actually happened to Los Angeles. And ‘Earthquake In New York’–if cars blowing up are cool to watch, it’s exponentially cooler to see the Guggenheim Museum crumble, or the Statue of Liberty slowly topple into the bay. Unfortunately, that movie screwed up by wasting the first hour giving us the personal back stories of the people who would ultimately be buried in the rubble. Just get to the destruction–let’s see some iconic landmarks collapse already! The best of the bunch is, for my money, ‘The Day After Tomorrow,’ which manages to include multiple natural disasters, a cautionary tale about global warming, AND Randy Quaid! Tell me it wasn’t great to watch a tornado turn the Capitol Records building into a bunch of building-sized frisbees.

I’m also a sucker for old-school monster movies, but I’ve always been curious. Before CGI, when aliens were actually hard-working, unappreciated working actors in green costumes, one thing was a given. It was always “Attack of the Fifty-Foot” something. What I want to know is how was it decided that fifty feet was the height at which a genetically-mutated, nuclear-fallout-created anything becomes threatening to mankind? Did studios say “Well, a seventy-five foot tall broccoli stalk is just silly–nobody’s gonna buy that. Make it fifty feet tall and you’ve got yourself a movie.” I mean, wouldn’t a twenty or thirty foot tall thing that’s not supposed to be twenty or thirty feet tall be just as scary?

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and the 2035 Grammy goes to…

The most eagerly-anticipated new album of 2035 was released this week, as ninety-four year old Bob Dylan’s “The Bootleg Series Vol. 12: Crap I Never Planned To Release” hit the airwaves on Tuesday. Coinciding with Dylan’s seventy-fifth year as a recording artist, “Crap” is a sprawling, maddening but ultimately rewarding and occasionally brilliant addition to the Dylan oeuvre, with undiscovered gems and a handful of new recordings which illustrate his still vital presence in the rock pantheon.

This has been a banner year for Dylan, winning the Nobel Prize for Literature, a Tony award for the musical version of his Greenwich Village years called “Blowin’!” and his week-long sting as a guest judge and mentor on the still popular “American Idol.” The “Idol” appearance was marred by controversy, of course, as Dylan was shown yelling at one of the finalists to “stop destroying my legacy you kids!”

This latest collection has Dylan looking back on his Minnesota troubador roots while at the same time making peace with modern technology. Late last year, he bought his first computer, and on this new album seems to be excited about the possibilities of using what he refers to in the opening track, “I Think I Like This,” as “the bleeps and blips, the ones and zeros” of digital recording. He even had a special microphone (‘the Zimmerman’) designed, which allows him to electronically add entire notes to his vocal range.

The album, in a nod to nostalgia, is being released on six actual physical discs. Although primarily a novelty item (each disc only holds about an hour of music), this ‘boxed set’ is noteworthy for the inclusion of words printed on paper listing each of the songs in the order Dylan performs them. Naturally, the songs will also be availble for download into your Individual-Digital Ear Accessory. The Apple I-DEA version of the album includes seven hundred tracks not available in the physical release.

The first part of “Vol. 12” is the most revelatory, as it includes six new songs. The best of these, a rollicking country-blues wrapped around a folk-punk groove, reflects Dylan’s recent conversion to Islam. Entitled “Osama (Might Be Comin’ Back)”, the tune is kicked off by Dylan’s funereal noodling on an antique instrument known as a ‘B-3’ organ, and features the sounds of drone missiles and a haunting refrain from a children’s choir.

This is followed by the strangest track in the collection. A collaboration with The Artist Formerly Known As The Artist Formerly Known As Prince, “R U From Minnesota 2?” is, on it’s surface, a slight acoustic number distinguished only by the return to the studio of TAFKATAFKAP after 20 years as an ordained minister for the Jehovah’s Witnesses. But underneath, you can almost feel the existential angst and whispered questions—and the implication that, at least for three minutes and seventeen seconds, we are all ‘from Minnesota.’

After a couple of perfunctory genre exercises (the calypso-inspired Still Not Dead” and the rockabilly-tinged “(Baby, You’re The Reason For All My Crazy Runnin’) Around,” part one ends with the most personal writing from Dylan since “Blood On The Tracks.” Bob Dylan has always expressed ambivalence about being ‘the voice of a generation,’ and nowhere is this conflict more apparent than on the moody, zither-driven anthem “The World Is Screwed And I’ve Stopped Caring.”

At almost twelve minutes, “The World Is Screwed And I’ve Stopped Caring” is a cryptic ode, full of opaque references to “the world being screwed” and Dylan himself “not caring.” Always a challenge to decipher, here Dylan presents an almost impressionistic lyric which can be interpreted in many ways.

We don’t ultimately know if it’s the folkie Dylan, the electric Dylan, the born-again Dylan or the romantic Dylan who is speaking to us, or is it an overlap of all of those Dylans in some sort of rock and roll Venn diagram? The song’s lyrics give us few clues, but he seems to be repudiating the notion of rock stars as prophets when he wails the lines “I repudiate the notion of rock stars as prophets/I can’t make it any clearer than that”.

After he became a Muslim, Bob Dylan famously said “God wears a lot of different suits, man, depending on where he has to go that day.” In this, his 47th album, it is Dylan who changes his wardrobe, and not all of the suits fit. Even Dylan fanatics won’t need an entire disc of sound checks, although “Test: One Two” is interesting. And the spoken word piece “Brownsville Girl Parts Two, Three And Four” is a bit self-indulgent. But after a fifteen year absence from the studio (claiming that “the magnets they’re using steal your soul”), “The Bootleg Series Vol. 12” is a stunning return to form from a man battling his demons, and ours, at times with just a harmonica.

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gettin’ old, watchin’ the tube

One thing I love about having survived half a century is that I’ve become comfortable with guilty pleasures. So comfortable that I just think of them now  as…pleasures.

Which brings me to television. First of all, now that the Supreme Court has decided corporations are really people, I should treat corporations as I would treat people, and if they want me to watch something, wouldn’t not watching be…rude? You’re not gonna hear me say “I don’t even own a TV” or “I only watch PBS.” Nope. Made peace with the idiot box. I.Love.TV.

Don’t get me wrong. You look through my library, you’ll see plenty of deep and substantial things. Hell, I was a cybernetics major at a top-tier university, and I can debate arcane philosophical points with the best of ’em. I’ve even occasionally been known to wear a beret, so obviously I’ve got some intellectual credibility. But life’s all about balance, and for that balance, I’m more than happy to suckle at the anesthetizing teat of television.

Or as I call it, my friend. TV is great, because when I want other humans in my apartment (but don’t want the hassle of actually interacting), I push a button and there they are. When I don’t want to be bothered by the tiny people in the box, I can make them go away. And unlike actual people, I can make them shut up and they don’t get all passive aggressive. It’s not like after turning the TV off, the next time I want to watch the TV throws me attitude like “Oh you didn’t want to watch me an hour ago—maybe I won’t turn on now.

See, the wisdom of my advanced years has taught me that, despite what Newton Minow famously claimed in 1963, the medium is not a ‘vast wasteland’. True, there’s a lot of garbage. But that’s why God made the remote and the TVGuide (or whatever the kids use to find out what’s on).

Now for entirely non-philosophical reasons, I haven’t had a TV for a few years. When I decided to get one, I had a classic ‘old man’ moment. I’m in a Best Buy, and the only TVs I see are flat-panel. So I ask the twenty-something clerk, “Do you have any TVs that look like…TVs? You, know, kinda like a… box with a cord?” And he says, “Yeah, I think we used to sell those a while ago…”

Initially I didn’t want cable–figured I’d just watch the ‘broadcast’ channels, with an antenna. But the antenna only allowed me to pick up the Spanish-language Home Shopping Club and the Evangelical Word Network, so I dove in, and now, with a TV and cable, I feel like I’ve been whooshed into another dimension like in an episode of Doctor Who. Which I can also watch now.

Random Observations About The TV Thing

Be careful if you’re flipping between two shows. And you’re stoned. Once, a couple years ago, I was going back and forth between the Golden Globes and the premiere episode of 24, and at one point I was worried that Jack Bauer was about to shoot Sandra Bullock.

I think the best solution to NBC’s late-night problem would have been to make Leno a regular on Law and Order—he stays on the network, Conan keeps The Tonight Show, and the 10pm slot is filled with cop shows again, like God intended.

I like Sarah McLachlan. I like animals. I DON’T like Sarah Mclachlan’s music as background for public service announcements about abused animals. Now I can’t listen to the song ‘Angel’ without thinking of sad, hurt puppies.

The Game Show Network is a weird concept, because they show reruns of game shows. Harder to get excited for someone who won $1,500 in 1978. That money’s probably gone now.

Niche channels like the History Channel maybe shouldn’t try to fill an entire day, because they seem to be running out of material. Hard to believe, with all of…history to work with, but there was an episode of Modern Marvels that was about COLD CUTS! Yeah, turkey bologna is truly a wonder of modern technology.

I love that my TV is high-definition, because with the wider screen resolution, now if I watch Fox News I get two extra inches of stupid.

Finally, a few thoughts about PBS. If you’re the type who ‘only watches PBS,’ that must be because your life is made richer by the deep, insightful analysis you get from the Legends of Doo-Wop, because I swear on the grave of Philo Farnsworth that is only show they play during pledge drives! I’m sure you think you’re playing to your demographic, but most of the members of the groups themselves are dead by now! Concert footage of seventy-year-old guys singing “Teenager In Love” to an audience of other seventy-year-olds doesn’t make me want to subscribe, it just reminds me that I’m old!

Oh, and not all British sitcoms are funny. Some them are simply crap with an accent. Frankly, I think most Americans watch BBC shows out primarily out of guilt for beating the British in the Revolutionary War.

Last night on PBS, there was a special featuring violinist Joshua Bell. Talented, and as close to a rock star as classical music gets. But he did something very disturbing. He performed a  ‘duet’ with dead pianist and composer Sergei Rachmaninoff. A recording of Rachmaninoff was played through a computer, which was connected to an actual piano, and somehow the piano looked like it was being ‘played’ without anyone sitting at the piano. I thought I was watching sorcery. And in that moment, I realized that when technology frightens you more than it impresses you, you’re getting old.

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