Monday, September 27th, 1999
So what, exactly, is so revolutionary about Action?
If you said that the Fox sitcom breaks new ground by using lots of profanity-and then bleeping it out-you may be missing the point. Sure, that’s the hook they used to get us in the door, carefully deploying the show’s stars to talk shows everywhere armed with a clip of the pilot’s first scene, where studio exec Peter Dragon belittles a hapless cafeteria worker (whose parking spot Dragon has stolen) in a soliloquy laced with multiple applications of bleepin’ invective.
Anyone (with cable or a DSS) who’s sampled an HBO preview knows that the language-minus the bleeps-is nothing new. You’ll hear it on Sex in the City, Arli$$, Oz, or any other of HBO’s original productions, and sure enough, the HBO playground is where Action was originally destined to air. But no, for some reason (money? exposure?) the program’s producers sought out a Fox timeslot, and if this show travels over the broadcast airwaves at 9 pm eastern, it travels bleeped. And just to make the process even easier, they shot these scenes with a hyperkinetic camera that made sure something was passing in front of actor Jay Mohr’s mouth anytime he was conjugating "fuck" as an adjective. No fair trying to read lips.
Of course in the lucrative overseas markets for the show, Action will probably arrive uncensored, possibly even with a few extra scenes shot with the exposed breasts that give a show like this a true HBO-feel. But this is the United States of America, ma’am, and we have rules against that sort of thing on our broadcast TV.
No, language is not the reason this program should be congratulated for barrier-breaking. Instead, consider characters, story, plot. Here’s a show with a leading character so unredeeming, so unrepenting, so generally repugnant, he makes broadcast television’s previous attempts at "bad boys" (remember Dabney Coleman’s Buffalo Bill?) seem like complete weenies. He’s paired with Ileana Douglas’s completely original portrayal of a child-star-turned-not-quite-retired-prostitute, and together they’re trying to get a movie put together ("Beverly Hills Gun Club") that is so bad we can smell the script from this side of the TV. There is absolutely no traditional reason we would want this pair to succeed. And yet
We’re watching. We’re laughing. We’re surprised. We’re entertained. And we’re all the more fascinated because we’ve been told that the Dragon character is drawn-in some detail-from the no-kidding for-real life, attitude, and behavior of the show’s actual executive producer, Joel Silver. It’s a classic LA paradox: you don’t know whether to congratulate Silver for rich lode of material that comes from this level of self-revelation or condemn him for the Tinseltown weasel he apparently epitomizes.
But I come here to praise Action. They are telling stories that, taken as a whole, completely satisfy our prurient interest in the scummy core of the movie business. When this program completes its (hopefully successful) run there will be (writers please note) absolutely no reason to try and tell this story again. This lode will be completely mined. There will be nothing more to be seen here, so please move along.
Monday, September 20th, 1999
Someone handed me a copy of The Hudspeth Report the other day, just another one of those free papers (like this one) that decorate the entrances to restaurants, video stores, and bookstores around town. Hadn’t looked at it in a while, and when I do, it’s always with a nostalgic lilt. Ron Hudspeth was a columnist for the Atlanta Journal (before it was quite so inextricably welded to the Atlanta Constitution), and his mission then, as it seems to be now, was to chronicle the nightlife in Atlanta-at least the white boy, Buckhead-centric partying that Hudspeth and friends enjoyed and perpetuated: This bar was opening, that one closed. A TBS exec punched the lights out of some sales manager at Harrison’s last night. Ted Turner was seen dancing with an unidentified blonde. Harmon Wages threw up all over the owner of Panos and Paul’s. Ah, the early eighties.
Funny thing, there in the back of this late nineties issue of The Hud Report was a column bemoaning the good old days when the JourCon had real columnists. And, especially because these words were written by a guy calling himself Red Neckerson, I can’t really tell if he’s serious or not. He says, in a roundabout way, that the four best columnists the paper ever had were Hudspeth, the late Lewis Grizzard, the recently late Celestine Sibley, and the not late yet Furman Bisher. When Bisher leaves, he says, he’ll cancel his subscription. Why wait till then?
"Neckerson"’s nostalgia for Grizzard’s "usually hilarious vignettes on Southern life, written with enthusiam and pride" and for Hudspeth’s who-punched-whom-in-what-bar updates is a cry for recognition from the old-boy network who used to run this town, setting a significant part of its cultural agenda. Their area of influence has, now, retreated outside the perimeter, leaving intowners with a diverse population that deserves to be represented-somehow-in their daily paper.
They are not just the Hudspeths and Houcks and the people bickering on The Georgia Gang on Sundays. They are, for one thing, younger than these guys in their fifties. Some are African-, Asian-, or Mexican-American. Many are women. Sexual preference? Religion? All over the map.
The slogan of the Gannett newspaper chain (at least at one point) was "A world of different voices where freedom speaks." Nice ideal, but then again, the AJC isn’t a Gannett paper (and we may well be grateful for that.) I think the Atlanta Journal Constitution took the first steps toward that kind of ideal in the late 1980s during Bill Kovach’s tenure, when people like Ron Hudspeth began to disappear from its pages and the first tenuous voices from these other parts of our city began to be heard. How have they done since then? Well I wouldn’t put Colin Campbell (again, another white guy in his forties or fifties) up as the foremost evidence of that effort. Rheta Grimsley Johnson? Well, she certainly represents diversity, but not necessarily a voice from and of our town. No, I’d point you toward the words of people like Jeff Dickerson, Cynthia Tucker (with reservations) or even the ajc.com’s Nadirah Z. Sabir, for a sense of what this place, these days, is all about.
Wednesday, September 15th, 1999
Hi there from the southeast at a time when folks are worried about Floyd, not an SCTV count but the hurricane du jour headed for (where else) Wilmington North Carolina, while sending winds and bands of rain up the east coast. I watched last night as Savannah–some 270 miles from here, thanks–was evacuated, with jammed lanes of cars heading northwest on I-16 in ALL the freeway lanes.
Here in Atlanta we’re fairly hurricane-proof, although sometimes we get some strong winds and rain from the remains of storms, most notably Opal in 1995. My aunt, uncle and a cousin or two, however, live in the aforementioned Wilmington, which apparently might as well have a target painted on it, since storms seem to head up that way with great regularity during the season. As always, our thoughts are with them, and I can picture my Aunt Rose gathering her standard collection of what’s important in her life–family pictures and momentos–as they watch the Weather Channel and prepare to head inland.
As I drop by my somewhat musty site here, I realize how much I’ve dropped out of the habit of writing and maintaining it–which probably says something about how much of a pain website maintenance is in general, especially when I’m loaded down with alleged ‘real work.’ It’s enough, it seems, to crank out a Media Rare a week for some sort of print-bound audience (although you can read them here), but that hardly makes this a very entertaining place to drop by. I’m getting the feeling it’s time for another major housecleaning here at the ol’ site, but that’s a lot easier to type than do.
Until then, a warm hello from me from here, and here’s hoping the roof is staying on your house, wherever you are.
Monday, September 13th, 1999
Live, from a studio that looked somewhat like the stern of a Federation starship crashed into a Times Square building, there they were, Diane and Charlie, your affable Good Morning America hosts. Look, they told us (in so many words)we’ve got it going on too! We’re kinda sorta out on the street-out over the street. We’ve got fancy neon and huge displays and, well, a lot of the same old set transported to this new place.
All of which is to say: GMA launched their new set on Monday. They spent millions. They had folks from co-ownedWalt Disney Imagineering helping them out. Do you care?
Will you care much when Bryant Gumbel’s revamped CBS morning show debuts with its fancy new street level set, graphics, music, and whatnot? Are you likin’ the new Peachtree Morning digs downtown? Did you start feeling better about WGNXer, CBS Atlanta news when they painted their brown set grey? How about when they plopped Jane Robelot and Calvin Hughes into the anchor chairs? Could you draw me a picture of the set behind John Pruitt and Monica Kaufman? Uh-huh.
I found myself wondering about this Monday night, watching a little Monday Night Football-to look at the graphics and animation. And there was plenty to watch. Every scoreboard element came a-tumbling onto the screen. The featurette at the top of the show was so laden with computer-generated animation that you were hard pressed to see the athletes and coaches in and among the simulated chrome, slabs of steel, and sparks. We careened around massive helmets that clashed together with huge explosions. Hank Williams, Jr. belted out game-specific lyrics from his spaceship (I can see the meeting: "well, this year we could put him and a bunch of cheerleaders in..uh..a spaceship!") Every damn statistic was brought onto the screen with a little spherical metal robot-sphere dude that looked like it escaped from the director’s cut of Blade Runner. Replays were delivered by a big glowing ABC-thing that looked like it could crush young children on the sidelines. And it was all really loud.
The scariest thing was that if you had a couple of grand to piss away, you could have been watching this wretched excess in high-definition. Aaaaggghh!
We have truly entered the Classic Era of "Why? Because we can." Yes, I blame Fox for having started this, and no, don’t get me wrong, I do like some of the crap placed between me and the action-like the upper-left scoreboard that keeps us up to date. It’s just that a few years back when Fox outbid CBS for the NFC football rights they set themselves up as the younger, hipper network by filling the blank spaces with graphics and accompanying wooshing sounds. Since then, every sports producer is told to "think outside the box" and go beyond Fox to give us something more, more.
The Good Morning America producers were given the same charge. An on-the-streets studio worked for Today, let’s do more, more. Get outside the box on that, too.
Problem is, we watch this stuff from inside the box, and from where I sit, it’s getting hard to see the stuff we want to see for stuff they want us to see.
Tuesday, September 7th, 1999
Poor Bryant Gumbel. Most of the hoorah surrounding the choice for his co-anchor on CBS’s revamped and rechristened The Early Show was overshadowed Tuesday by the announcement that uneven media behemoth Viacom would buy CBS, a deal worth something like 37 billion dollars. Reuters called it "the largest media marriage ever," although the company that will emerge will be just a tad smaller than Time Warner.
Chairing the merged company (to be calledViacom) will be quirky CEO Sumner Redstone, a man who could give Ted Turner lessons on odd gazillionaire behavior. President and Chief Operating Officer will be CBS’s current head, the quirky Mel Karmazin.
People you’ve probably never heard of.
What does this mean to you, the home viewer/listener/renter? Not a heck of a lot, except that the same people that own CBS will also have MTV, Nickelodeon, Showtime, The Nashville Network, Paramount, Star Trek, UPN (maybe), the syndication company that owns Wheel of Fortune, Oprah, and Jeopardy, Howard Stern, Blockbuster Video, and a big scary pile of TV and radio stations in their back pocket.
More choices? More options? Don’t count on it. It all means a staggering amount of your day to day media intake is controlled or will be controlled by Viacom, The Walt Disney Company, and Time Warner. That would be Redstone and Karmazin, Michael Eisner, and the lopsided tag team of Gerald Levin and Ted Turner. Quirksters all.
So where does that leave Fox or GE/NBCand for that matter, Microsoft? AT&T?
Well, maybe they need to get a deal of their own. "Our union will be king," Sumner Redstone said in a bombastic statement Tuesday. (Oooh! King of All Unions!) "We will be global leaders in every facet of the media and entertainment industry."
As the dust settles on all of that royal stock swapping, we’re left with the more modest media news of the week, like the arrival of Later Today on NBC (prediction: in 5 years, Today will run from 6 am until 6 pm, 7 days a week.) and WXIA’s local offering, the oft-revamped Peachtree Morning, now originating from someplace off of Centennial Park (perhaps to keep a lookout for Eric Rudolph.) On the premiere of the former, we watched a few minutes of Florence Henderson talking really bad French with some chef before we were forced to retreat in pain. "They seem to be trying really really hard," my wife observed.
And then Later than Later, Paul Ossman and Carmen Burns (no relation) looked extremely uncomfortable semi-perched on stools, talking with a forgettable twentysomething actor who joined the cast of one of NBC’s teen comedies. Which reminds me: last week in the Sunday New York Times, Lynn Hirschberg profiled teen actors who are washed up by 25 in a piece called "Teenseltown-Desperate to Seem 16" Sad, true, and an engaging read, on the web for now at http://www.nytimes.com/library/magazine/home/19990905mag-teenseltown.html.
And so, back to Bryant, standing there wondering why the hoopla train went a ways past him, down the track, before backing up. They found Gumbel’s partner (in a search codenamed inside CBS "Operation Glass Slipper") in the person of Jane Clayson, currently at ABC. She’s (most recently) from Salt Lake City. Solet the games begin.