Category Archives: Entertainment

Monster lizard ravages East Coast

During my career in TV news, I was fortunate, or unfortunate as the case may be, to be witness to all sorts of live, on-air screw ups. Many were funny, but some were not. But that it not the point of this post. In honor of all my friends and family who are digging out and trying to stay warm, here is a classic from my favorite radio news guy, Les Nessman.

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The Dynasty Continues

 

phil-robertson-p11I didn’t exactly stay glued to my computer or TV to keep track of the minute-to-minute developments over Duck Dynasty patriarch Phil Robertson’s comments in GQ, but it has been an amusing holiday diversion. Some thoughts…

I’m not sure why anyone was so shocked. His comments on gay sex and gay marriage are certainly out of vogue with popular culture these days. However, they do reflect a stance that was considered conventional wisdom until just the very recent past. Let us remember, the idea of gay marriage was a fringe concept until just the last few years.

Some complained about the loss of “freedom of speech” and cited the First Amendment without having a clue what the concept entails. As it relates to a case like this, the Freedom of Speech clause in the First Amendment protects a person’s right to state his opinion. It offers no protection against the reaction to those comments. I can call those people morons all I want, but I should be prepared for a negative response.

If your fame and fortune rests on your intangible image in popular culture, then you really should be very careful about protecting that image. The same thing happened with our neighbor Paula Deen.

When you develop a vaccine to prevent breast cancer, you can rest on your accomplishment and say anything you want. Your spot in history is still reserved by your accomplishments. However, when you have no tangible foundation, your public image is like a filled balloon. Everything is fine until someone comes along with a pin. I think this applies only partially to Phil, because I’m not sure he really cares one way or the other. Remember, this is a guy who gave up on a potential NFL career because the season interfered with hunting season. If Duck Dynasty were to go away, he still has the duck call business that got the whole thing started.

It is no surprise that A&E kissed and made up. Let’s face it, DD is the only thing that makes A&E stand out in a field of second-tier cable networks. Think about it. Without DD, what is A&E?

It’s that network that runs “Law and Order” marathons. No, that’s TNT.

How about the network that runs old movies. No, that’s AMC.

Wait! It’s the network that runs those syrupy melodramas for women. No, that’s Lifetime.

I know. It’s the network that shows people how to fix up and sell their home. No, that HGTV. (Mrs. Poolman’s favorite channel, by the way.)

Get the picture? A&E sure did.

Love those sappy Christmas commercials!

I am a total sucker for those sappy TV commercials that come on this time of year. Hallmark has always produced some classics. No slap-job :30 second spots for them. Running up to two minutes or more, these are little micro-dramas are fully intended to produce a little warm spot in the coldest of hearts. The Publix grocery store chain has produced some very nice ones lately, mostly with small children. And this year, Apple has joined the crowd with a really excellent effort. Here are a couple of good ones from this year, and one oldie-but-goldie Hallmark spot from years past.

‘Life After Life’ — Different but interesting

life-after-life_originalEvery once in awhile, I’ll read something that is miles outside of my usual material. Usually, I’m pretty happy I did, and “Life after life,” by Kate Atkinson is one of those books. I read a review when it came out last spring and when I saw it on the library rental shelf, I went ahead and checked it out.

This is the first book I have read in which I was really waiting for the main character to die. And Ursula Todd does die… a lot. That is the point of the story. Ursula is a girl born to a middle-class British family on a cold, snowy night in 1910. Over the course of the novel, she dies and then is reborn as the same person to the same parents on the same day. However, in each new life there a slight change in events which steer Ursula’s life onto a different course. (Think of the movie “Groundhog Day” but on a larger time-scale and fewer laughs.)

In the very first chapter, Ursula attempts to kill Adolph Hitler in 1930, before he reaches power. (No spoiler alert here. The reader will know this in the first ten pages.) Atkinson leaves it until the end of the book to resolve the issue of how that transpired and the result.

Atkinson is creative in the way she offs her protagonist. Ursula initially dies as she is being born. She falls out a window. She is murdered. Eventually she starts to develop déjà vu feelings about her previous lives and starts taking steps to change her fate and prevent her pending death. She doesn’t always get it right. Although she succeeds in changing the course of events, she ends up in the same place anyway and still dies. She usually takes several tries to get it right.

Ursula is an interesting character, so as a reader, I didn’t mind living her successive lives with her. After some of the longer sequences, I felt myself wishing, “So hurry up and die already, so we can get on to the next story.”

I won’t spoil the ending, but I have to say I was not happy with it. Maybe I just didn’t understand it, but I was left with the feeling that Atkinson did not resolve all her remaining issues.

Otherwise, it was an interesting, although different book that I would recommend.

Two entertaining flicks from the my hometown

In the midst of our busy social life (note: sarcasm), Mrs. Poolman and I recently watched two decent movies at home. A bit of a surprise in both cases was that they were both shot in my hometown of Pittsburgh.

Jack_Reacher_poster“Reacher,” starring Tom Cruise, was much better than I expected it to be. The biggest surprise was that Cruise absolutely nailed the character of Jack Reacher. This was a surprise, because he doesn’t come anywhere close to fitting the physical description of Jack Reacher in the series of novels by Lee Child. In the books, Reacher is 6’4”, and we all know Tom C is about a foot shorter.

Reacher is a former Army CID officer who turned his back on conventional society when he left the Army. He drifts around the country without a home or job, but always seems to find himself in some situation that needs fixing. Reacher is extremely smart, tough and resourceful. He is very cool, in the same way that Mark Harmon plays a cool Jethro Gibbs in NCIS.

In the movie, based on the Child novel, “One Shot,” Reacher arrives in Pittsburgh to help solve the mystery surrounding a former Army sniper who shot and killed several people, apparently without rhyme or reason. Of course it turns out there was a rhyme and reason; otherwise there wouldn’t be a story.

In any case, this isn’t a flick you are going to see around Academy Awards time, but for a Saturday night rental with a bowl of popcorn, this one was pretty good.

Abduction_PosterA real surprise was “Abduction” with Taylor Lautner (Twilight series) and Lily Collins (The Blind Side.) We picked it up on Netflix last night. The main character, Nathan, discovers his childhood picture on a missing children Web site. So, of course, he and his cute neighbor, Karen (Lily Collins,) pursue it. Rather than turning into a maudlin Lifetime-network chick-flick, which we expected, a hit team shows up at his house, and the chase is on. “Hey Mrs. Poolman, look at what just happened here!”

The plot and overall story is pretty good, but it misses on some of the small points. The acting is nothing to rave about (I understand Taylor was runner-up for a worst-actor award for this movie. I’m not surprised.) , despite a decent supporting cast including Maria Bello, Jason Issac (the evil British colonel in The Patriot), Signorney Weaver and Michael Nyqvist (the Swedish version of the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy.) We were just amazed that after swimming across a river and sleeping in the woods overnight, Taylor and Lily looked like they just walked out of make-up. Abduction 3 w But if you overlook some of the little things, you’ll find that “Abduction” is a pretty entertaining movie.

Where have you gone, Lou Grant?

By now everyone in the world has heard about the colossal screw up last week when KTVU-TV fell victim to a prank and announced fake, racist names of the crew of that crashed Asiana airliner.

While most people are chuckling and asking “How could that happen?” the men and women who run local TV newsrooms should be shaking in their boots. If they have any self-awareness at all, they should be dropping to their knees and praying “Thank God, they didn’t call my station.”

I spent more than 26 years in the  local TV news business most of them as a news director, running local news departments. I have been out of the business for more than ten years, but I stay in touch. Many of the problems I saw when I was there remain today, and have gotten worse.

This may not be exactly what happened, but it is a very plausible scenario. A call or email comes into the newsroom. Some junior staffer, probably fresh out of college takes the call and gets excited and yells “We have the names of the pilots!”

Someone only slightly more experienced responds, “Oh my God, we have to get this on the air, NOW!”

Already someone else has called the promotion department to tell them to start working on a promo hyping the “exclusive breaking news.”

The chyron operator (the person who types the letters that you see on the screen) transcribes what is given to him.

Meanwhile, not until the anchor reads the names on the air does anyone actually look at the names and say them out loud.

Supposedly in the KTVU case, someone at the station called the NTSB where an intern confirmed the names. How this happened, I cannot explain.

So why does something like this slip through?

1. Too many stations overemphasize flash and speed over substance and accuracy.  How many times have you seen or heard “breaking news,” or “this just in,” or even better “live, late breaking.” On the other hand, how many times have you seen a station brag, “We got it right!” Getting it right may be an assumption, but when it isn’t emphasized, it falls by the wayside. It may only be a dumpster fire, but if it’s live and breaking news, we’ll be all over it.

2. The economics of the TV business are such that there just aren’t as many experienced people left in many newsrooms to actually provide a system of checks to catch mistakes before they air. This was a noon newscast in a major market. You would think there would be some senior people around to call the shots at that time of day. However, when you get to a smaller market, especially on weekends or in the early morning, it is just a handful of inexperienced people processing a high volume of news content. The same young producer or reporter who gathers in the information also writes it and approves it for air. There is no one to give it a second look, or if there is, they are frequently as green as the first person.

3. TV newsrooms are not staffed by rocket scientists. This is a dirty little secret that no one wants to talk about. This is not a blanket indictment of everyone who works in TV news, nor am I saying that TV news people are all morons. For the most part, they all have college degrees, so at least in theory they are literate. And clearly, there are some very sharp people working out there.  However, on the average over the past two decades or so, the TV news business has not attracted the cream of the intellectual crop.

It starts in college. If he or she is being honest, a broadcast journalism professor will admit (as many have to me) that the students he/she is teaching are not the best and the brightest. The students who were at the top of their admission class are majoring in subjects that will produce a more lucrative career, like pre-med, pre-law, finance, engineering, and so on. When compared to majors like engineering, chemistry or even nursing,  broadcast journalism is a fairly easy major. It is often a second choice or back-up plan for students who couldn’t hack it in the more demanding majors. (In full disclosure, about a hundred years ago, I was one of those students.) Further, it is not at uncommon for the top graduates in a broadcast journalism program to take a look at the starting salaries in the TV business and say, “Screw this. I’ll go to law school or get an MBA.”

4. It’s very sad that a large number of those students/graduates aren’t really interested in journalism or news in general. They want to be on TV. They might be just as happy, or perhaps more so, being a “spokes-model” or a contestant on “Big Brother,” as covering the city council in small-town USA. For most new, young TV reporters, the job of collecting and presenting news is just a means to an end — a way to get on TV. If the stars align in their favor, maybe they get a shot at their true dream, to get off the street, away from the day-to-day drudgery of actually covering news, and become an anchor. As a result, there is very little emphasis what traditionalists might consider real journalism. “How does my writing look?” is replaced by “How does my hair look?”

5. Back to college for a moment, although the salaries aren’t a lot different, there is a contrast between the broadcast journalism students and their academic cousins across the quad in the print journalism department. It tends to attract a different type of student. In print journalism, it doesn’t really matter what you look or sound like. The most fame you will achieve early in your career is a byline and maybe a thumbnail photo. Strangers won’t come up to you in the grocery store and ask you why you changed your hair style. While still in school, you are actually expected to be able to write something longer and with more depth than a tweet.

I wish I had a good conclusion for this post, but I don’t. I continue to watch local TV news here. Mostly I just want to know if it’s safe to go to bed and what the weather will be in the morning. I really don’t care about the “live, late breaking” dumpster fire.

Poor Paula

The headline in today’s local paper reads  “Publisher drops Deen cookbook.” “The Perils of Paula” has been all anyone in Savannah has been talking about for the past ten days. In case you have been hibernating, you know that local Savannah restaurateur-made rich-and-famous Paula Deen has been under attack ever since the contents of a deposition were made public, in which she admitted using the “N-word” some 30years ago.Paula w

I am of two minds on this issue. My first reaction was this was an incredibly disproportionate reaction to a three-decade old petty misdemeanor. I mean – come on! Let he who is without sin, cast the first stone. I am not condoning the utterance. I just think this is a case of capital punishment for a parking ticket. I feel sorry for Paula. She actually lives around the corner from us, and occasionally we’ll see her shopping in Publix.

On the other hand, to borrow another cliché, “Those who live by the sword, die by the sword.” In this case, the sword is the combination of publicity and image.  Paula built her food empire and her fortune based on image and publicity. It’s not like she is the greatest chef in the world. Her folksy “Southern charm” made her the queen of The Food Network. Once she caught on, her momentum just kept building. But that kind of fame and image can be like a balloon – big and voluminous, but of little of substance. One leak and the whole thing disappears.

Paula did not do a good job protecting that balloon from lurkers with needles. The damning deposition originates in a lawsuit related to a restaurant Paula created for her brother, Bubba. We know a number of people who have worked at “Uncle Bubba’s,” and they tell us that things were run pretty loose there. I have no idea of there is any merit to the actual lawsuit filed by one of Bubba’s former managers, but it is safe to say that the operation was not squeaky clean. That is not unusual for restaurants, and in most cases, it doesn’t matter — unless you are Paula Deen and you have a mega-million business riding almost entirely on your image. You must make certain there is no one lurking in the background with a hat pin looking to burst that giant balloon. Apparently, she did not do that, and that is her biggest mistake. Too bad.