Wednesday, June 29, 2011

I know. This doesn't explain my Law & Order obsession. I prefer to think of myself as complex.

We are the dumbest people ever. Okay, maybe not the dumbest. But certainly the most vapid, empty-headed, insipid, trite people ever. We are. And I have proof.

But first, let’s step back a few decades, and visit primetime television circa 1964. Remember actor Dick York? From 1964 to 1969, in a grand total of 156 episodes, he portrayed Darrin Stephens, the agitated but devoted husband of one beautiful witch, Samantha, on the primetime comedy, Bewitched. Lovely. In 1968, Dick York disappeared from the cast, almost by magic, and was replaced by another actor, Dick Sargent.

Here’s how CBS and the producers of the show explained the change in the cast to viewers. “Samantha” addressed him as “Darrin” the first time we saw him on screen and he responded. It took the audience, including me at the tender age of 9 years old I might add, about three seconds to process the following (challenging) bit of information:

The other guy: out.

This guy: in.

Got it.

No one had to tell us what happened to the other Darrin. No one had to write a script explaining how Darrin #1 had been killed in a tragic accident and how Samantha found new love in yet another man who, interestingly enough, worked in advertising at McMahon and Tate, and was also named Darrin Stephens.

I’m leaving aside the fact that in this same series at least two actresses portrayed neighbor Gladys Kravitz and two actresses played Louise Tate. Admittedly, neither role was a lead in the show but still; no one was ever confused or concerned about the changes.

Then again, you have your “Bonanza” cast changes from the ‘60s and ‘70s. Pernell Roberts chose to leave the show and his character, Adam, was conveniently relocated to Australia. Actor Dan Blocker died unexpectedly after surgery as the last season was about to begin and the producers responded by killing his character, “Hoss,” instead of hiring another actor for the role.

This notion of the viewing public having the intelligence God gave a flea started to get some additional traction in the 1970s and 1980s.

Who could forget M*A*S*H*? Instead of replacing Wayne Rogers in the role of “Trapper” John McIntyre, M.D. (a character and role resurrected in an entirely different series by the previously noted Pernell Roberts) the show sent McIntyre home and introduced Dr. B.J. Hunnicutt, played by Mike Farrell. And as the saying goes, war is hell. When McLean Stephenson (“Lt. Henry Blake”) left the show, the creators killed Henry.

Then there’s Cheers. Nicholas Colasanto, playing the beloved “Coach,” died and the bartender who took his place was a younger man with the same sweet disposition, Woody Harrelson playing Woody Boyd. (Please note the actor name matching the character name. This will come up again later.)

My favorite ridiculous story about stars and characters and our seeming unwillingness to suspend disbelief is from the sitcom, “Valerie.” Or should I say, “Valerie’s Family.” Or should I say, “The Hogan Family.” Remember this?

Valerie Harper started on her road to television sitcom fame playing the best friend, Rhoda Morganstern, on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, where Mary Tyler Moore played “Mary.” Harper eventually leaped to her own spinoff, “Rhoda,” playing the lead this time.

Like MTM, she somehow moved beyond a character name and in 1986, she starred in “Valerie,” playing Valerie Hogan, the mother of three sons. When she quit the show after just one year over her contract, she was replaced by the ever-perky and ever-popular Sandy Duncan, playing a close Hogan family relative who joined the household after Valerie “died.”

Let’s take a moment here to pose a question: one season? Are you kidding me? After one season we were all so connected to and fond of Valerie Hogan that we just couldn’t give her up? Why not hire Sandy Duncan, call her Valerie and be done with it?

I don’t know. But I guess I shouldn’t be all that amazed that CBS may in fact be killing off Charlie Sheen’s character, Charlie Harper, on Two and a Half Men. Was the character that nuanced? That deep? So complex that in the hands of a lesser thespian, viewers would have suffered in dismay as they watched a new “bad guy” on the show?


What I can’t figure out is why more producers don’t take their cue from Bewitched and just replace the actor / actress who is not available for whatever reason and move on with someone new playing the same character.

I can hear the outcry already. Impossible! There could never be another Hoss. Or another Coach. Or another Henry Blake. Or another Charlie Harper.

Nonsense. Of course there could be. But producers and creators seem to buy into their own fantasies to the point where they get delusional. According to IMDB, Jean Stapleton was the only realist on All in the Family: When the show was ending its run, Norman Lear spoke with Jean Stapleton (who was growing weary of playing Edith Bunker) about how they would respectfully have Edith die. She said, "Just have her die off, she's only fiction." Lear paused, then said, "Not to me, she isn't."

And there it is.

Look, I love characters and stories and I love feeling like the people we love in stories or on television or on film are real. But they’re not and never will be. And we all have our favorite portrayals and favorite characters. Firth = Darcy. Stallone = Rocky. Gable = Butler. Garland = Dorothy.

But then again: Connery – Lazenbi - Moore –Dalton - Brosnan – Craig = Bond. Then again (again), a tuxedo and a martini can work miracles.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Pause your brain in one room; resume it in another. Or not. Whatever.

Reason # 7,458 we are doomed as a society: Direct TV. Well, it’s not really the idea of Direct TV or digital programming that signals our downfall. It’s more that our entertainment needs seem to have become all but obsessions at this point.

Exhibit A. You know that Direct TV commercial? It opens with a man watching a movie or television show. On the screen, we see some kind of CGI robots or droids or whatever they are in a battle of some sort. In other words, a scene almost no woman alive would watch on purpose with much enthusiasm, much less be concerned about missing the whole thing or part of it if they left the room. But back to our male viewer: In the midst of the action, the guys hits “pause,” walks into his kitchen, and on another very beautiful, very ‘this year’s model’ flat screen TV, he hits “play,” and continues to watch the scene.

And what was so important in the kitchen? Why did he need to leave the comfort of his living room to spend time in there? Good question. I’ll tell you what he wasn’t doing there. He wasn’t standing at the stove stirring the risotto. He wasn’t trying to distract himself while he spooned strained peas into his squirming toddler. He wasn’t even taking food out of the oven and to settle down in front of the set to continue watching the movie while he ate dinner.

So what was it? What interrupted him to begin this whole mini-drama? What disrupted his entertainment and called him away from room # 1? What could possibly be so important and demanding that he had to resume watching in a new room?

He had to get his microwave popcorn. Some MICROWAVE popcorn. That takes something like three minutes to prepare.

Dear God.

Let’s dissect this for a moment, shall we?

A viewer enthralled with a scene. Got it. (We’ve all been there although in my case, I can practically guarantee you there was a Hugh or a Colin or a Brad involved.) In the Direct TV commercial, the guy is so enthralled that he doesn’t want to miss a second of the action and he stops the action before walking into another room. Fine. We’ve all hit pause. But he can’t wait to continue watching so he starts the action up again in room # 2, because forcing himself to find his way back to room # 1 to resume watching the original scene is just too painful and demanding to imagine.

Fine. Sure. We all refuse to miss a moment of anything on a screen. We have digital recorders that allow us to pause a live broadcast and start it on command. Or stop a streaming movie and start it when we want to watch again. Or record a movie on one set and watch it on another. Super. I don't object to technology.

I object to our attitude. Our entitled, oblivious attitude about what we think we need to own in order to feel validated as technology-savvy consumers. To feel like consumers who are ahead of - or at least keeping up with - the game. But even that assessment sounds snotty and entitled, too, doesn’t it?

Try thinking of it this way. My boys told me about a tweet from Drew, an artist who writes Toothpaste for Dinner, that went something like this: “I was using the light from my laptop to look for a Skittle I dropped and remembered that millions of people don’t have clean drinking water.”

Yup. What he said.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Honestly, I could do this all day. Ironically, many of these men probably said the same thing.

You know who was really happy to read the Representative Anthony Weiner news?
Governor Arnold Schwarzeneggar.

You know who was really happy to read the Arnold Schwarzeneggar news?
IMF Chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn.

You know who was really happy to read the Dominique Strauss-Kahn news?
Senator John Edwards.

You know who was really happy to read the John Edwards news?
Representative John Ensign.

You know who was really happy to read the John Ensign news?
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

You know who was really happy to read the Silvio Berlusconi news?
Representative Christopher Lee.

You know who was really happy to read the Christopher Lee news?
Representative Mark Souder.

You know who was really happy to read the Mark Souder news?
Representative Eric Massa.

You know who was really happy to read the Eric Massa news?
Governor Mark Sanford.

You know who was really happy to read the Mark Sanford news?
Governor Eliot Spitzer.

You know who was really happy to read the Eliot Spitzer news?
Representative Vito Fossella.

You know who was really happy to read the Vito Fosella news?
Senator Larry Craig.

You know who was really happy to read the Larry Craig news?
Representative Mark Foley.

I can do this all night, folks. Sadly, that’s the truth. And I haven’t even left the political arena yet. Let’s not get into sports, entertainment and business leaders.

Otherwise, the list could quickly get unwieldy.

Friday, June 03, 2011

New York State (of mind)

So close….but not quite.

I am hovering on the NY border, just this side of Elmira, New York as I head to Canada on my virtual run. By the end of May, I had logged just over 200 miles with 250 more to go. Incredibly, that puts me on track to hit my 450 mile total by year’s end, and land me about thirty miles north of Toronto, Ontario Canada. Believe me, no one is more surprised than I at this tally.

Couple of things I learned this month, most of which I should have figured out about forty years ago. First: when you go out of town for an overnight trip, it’s probably not worth dragging your running shoes, shorts, and a T-shirt to get in a couple of miles. There are two reasons for this. One: Given the time of year and the state of commercial aviation these days, a two day trip rarely seems to work out. You sit in an airport for the better part of a day waiting for your delayed and ultimately cancelled flight. Your subsequent travel compresses into one day to accommodate your schedule which means the out of town run never happens.

In my case, it was a one-day out and back to Houston, plus the roundtrip drive to Newark, with the added bonus of sitting in a meeting for about four hours. Sixteen hours spent sitting in a car / the middle seat / a conference room chair isn’t nearly as enticing as it sounds. I spent the next two or three days recovering from the trip and even contemplating a run is difficult when you can’t quite stand upright the next day.

And two: Even when your travel starts out as planned, it’s not worth packing your duds because it probably won’t end well. Despite any delusions you hold about how and when you plan to run, it’s unlikely you’ll get one in when you have a 4:45 wakeup call to meet a client for a meeting by 6 am. And you won’t get it in the next day either, after you get stuck in Charlotte at midnight and then have to wake up (again) at 4:45 to catch the 5:30 am shuttle from the hotel to the airport to get your flight home.

And three: Running a 3+ mile loop in my neighborhood feels refreshing and good and absolutely do-able on a cool Saturday morning. It feels exactly the opposite of that on a hot Friday night.

But I did learn this as well: a few days off doesn’t mean it’s over. A sore back doesn’t necessarily mean you’re sidelined forever. Building up to a previous pace after some recovery time off won’t happen overnight but it’s possible and a worthy goal. I suspect there could be some kind of metaphor for life’s challenges hovering around the edges here but then again, maybe not. I leave it to you to decide.

So to summarize: five months in; seven to go. About two hundred miles on the books; just less than two-hundred and fifty to go. That’s 35.62 miles a month. Or 8.9 miles a week. Or 2.226 miles four times a week.

That I can do.