Posts Tagged ‘television’

 My early teen years were a struggle, to say the least. I was ungainly, unsure and decidedly uncool. Eventually, I would  attain the even teeth, the carefully ironed long hair,  even an  acceptable body shape.  But in 1964, I wanted to look like my older  brother’s cheerleader girlfriends. More seriously, I wanted to be
someone else–anyone else except me.

I was miserable at school. I couldn’t hide my smarts or keep my mouth shut; couldn’t get my footing  or find my place. Ripe for teasing, I tried to stay clear of the mean  girls and sought refuge in music and books. Then, beginning September  22nd of that year, I had a chance to latch onto a debonair chap and his sexy partner, the stars of “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.”

UNCLEThe show was both an homage to and send-up of the popular James Bond movies and starred Robert Vaughn and a young Scottish actor named David McCallum. They played agents of the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement (UNCLE), an international organization dedicated to stopping THRUSH from exercising its evil plan to take over the world.

The casting was impeccable, the setup fantastical and the details were  inspired. Vaughn’s character, Napoleon Solo, was the classic spy in the 007 mold: suave, clever; with a fondness for the good life and a weakness  for women.  He was cool in an old-fashioned sort of way; a throwback to previous decades.

But it was McCallum’s character, the elusive Illya Kuryakin, who caught and held my attention. The Beatles had landed in the U.S. a few months earlier and like so many girls my age, I was drawn to the safely boyish Paul McCartney. But in Illya, I found my soul-mate: a mysterious,
educated (Masters degree from the Sorbonne; PhD in quantum mechanics from University of Cambridge) Russian whose hip calm exterior hid, I was certain, a treasure trove of passion. He seemed to own a wardrobe of swoon-inducing black turtlenecks.  Best of all, he and Solo were working in a spirit of global cooperation to defeat terrorists, anarchists and the like in the middle of the Cold War.  I was hooked.

My mother, in a display of solidarity and support, took pictures of our television set when the show was on and gave me the images. I can’t tell you what that meant to me; it was like having your mother approve of your first boyfriend.

“The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” lasted four years and took me through high school. Even after I grew out of my ugly duckling phase, I remained loyal to the intrepid spies and to the attractive Illya.   Encountering McCallum in recent times on another show that has saved me–NCIS–is like  olderMcreuniting with an old love. McCallum’s Dr. Donald “Ducky” Mallard is a little fussy, but also funny, smart and sensitive, with a soulful side
that probably owes to his Scottish origins (okay, I’m projecting). He’s not quite the sexy Kuryakin I remember–except perhaps for the twinkle in his eye. But he seems wise in ways that matter. I’m sure he’d forgive my crush on  Mark Harmon’s character. I like to think we have a deeper, more meaningful relationship. He was, after all, my first love.

sources: IMDb; Wikipedia
images: nnbd  firstachurch, photobucket

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I keep forgetting Oprah Winfrey’s talk show is going off the air in late May. It’s kind of hard to grasp the fact that this ubiquitous cultural icon will end her twenty-five year reign as talk show queen. But she’s leaving and, as observed in a recent New  York Times article, her departure will crush the dreams of hundreds of writers, entrepreneurs and those with inspirational stories.

Being on Oprah is a game-changer, no doubt about it. Ask any writer what happens when Oprah recommends a book on her show or in her glossy and immensely popular magazine. Sales shoot through the roof, advances materialize, phones ring off the hook…you get the picture. Even being scolded by Oprah doesn’t hurt a career; James Frey rebounded nicely from the dressing down she administered for writing a less than truthful memoir, A Million Little Pieces, in 2006. Of course, she later apologized on her show. You can’t buy that kind of publicity.

It’s not just writers who hit the jackpot after Oprah. Cooks, decorators, financial advisors, life coaches, and doctors have all gone onto bigger things. Catch Oprah’s eye and your options multiply like magic.  Life is good when you’re a FOO (Friend of Oprah).

The Times article quoted one cultural observer as noting that Oprah is to writers and entrepreneurial types as Johnny Carson used to be to performers. That’s true. As a kid and well through my mid-thirties, I aspired to and then pursued a career in music. I wanted to be on Carson. I didn’t care much about performing; my goal was to be invited to sit by Johnny’s desk, where I’d trade witty banter with him and with Ed McMahon or whoever was sitting on the couch with me. Hey, we all have our dreams.

Johnny Carson retired, and I got out of music to settle down with more realistic expectations; that is, until my book was published. “Maybe you can get on Oprah,” suggested my cousin. “Boy, a spot on Oprah’s show would be great, ” commented my close pal. “Are you going to approach Oprah’s people?” asked my writing partner. I thought back to my work on the section in my book on moral authority and celebrity; I’d used Oprah as my principal example. Had I been too harsh on her?  Did I present a fair and balanced explanation of her place in popular culture? Had I given offense? Would she forgive me?

I began to imagine her reading my slender book, lingering over the chapter in which she was featured, smiling at the tactful way I finessed our disagreement about the merits of The Secret, nodding when she came to my approving comments about her generosity. I pictured myself sitting back in the comfortable-looking armchair she uses for guests on her show as she leaned forward, engaging me earnestly on some point I made about certainty. I wanted her approval, I wanted her blessing; I wanted to be on Oprah.

I sent a copy of the book, along with a heartfelt letter, to her producer. I haven’t heard anything back yet. But I’ve got six months. Anyway, there’s always “Dancing with the Stars.”

original image at:

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By now everyone and their mother has heard about, read about, or seen Betty White’s star turn on “Saturday Night Live.” White, at 88 the oldest host the show has ever had, was recruited thanks to a huge fan movement on Facebook. Mission accomplished: White demonstrated why shn266442514828_8596e remains not just a show-business legend but a consummate performer with pitch perfect timing. 

In a night filled with the pleasures of seeing returning veterans like Cheri Oteri, Rachael Dratch, Ana Gasteyer, Maya Rudolph,Amy Poehlner, and Tina Fey, White more than held her own. The show tackled the age difference between the cast and its guest (about half a century or more) head-on in a way that was funny, yes, but also generous and even celebratory. The generation gap was nowhere in evidence; clearly bawdy humor knows no age restrictions. 

White’s skill as a television comedian isn’t a surprise, given her years of experience, some 56 years by her own account. But the excitement generated by her eighty-eight and a half year-old presence seemed to mean something more. Sure, Betty White is the grandmother (great-grandmother?) the audience probably wants. She’s also, in an age of heightened awareness of our own and our loved ones’ morality, the antithesis of the despair that old age represents. In the real world, there are wheelchairs and nursing homes, strokes and Alzheimers, isolation and depression; on “SNL” there is Betty White. Who among us would not be pulled in and held in a state of hopeful suspended animation by the thought of being half the active, engaged and thoroughly entertaining Ms. White deep into our ninth decade?

On the other hand, Betty White gave a kick-ass, thoroughly invested, totally funny performance. At any age, she is a television treasure. Rock on, Betty.

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A friend and faithful reader (hopefully I don’t have any faithless readers) has asked me to say something about the Writers Guild of America strike. Fair enough. I admit that the quality of TV, which I keep on in the background, has seemed to me to be sinking for some time. I tend to multi-task. Still I’d kind of enjoyed watching Christine Applegate’s marvelous comic turn in “Samantha Who?” and the addition of Joe Mantegna to the “Criminal Minds” cast.  So yeah, I could say I have a personal interest.

Actually, I know writers on the picket lines and it’s no laughing matter to them – or to the hundreds of boutique businesses, from caterers to hair stylists to limo drivers whose livelihood is taking a serious hit while the studio heads apparently tough it out in their second homes or on the golf course. My rudimentary understanding of the arguments is that they relate to DVD residuals, animation and future revenue from the Internet, among other issues. I don’t know why the producers don’t just make a deal, although I’ve heard stories about how disrespectfully writers are treated.  Maybe that’s the game in Hollywood. Maybe the producers are figuring they can ride out the strike and make a buck on tenth-rate reality shows.  Maybe they think the viewers won’t notice the dip in quality, which is pretty disrespectful too.

Hopefully at some point, Los Angeles officials will feel the pinch, via their constituents and someone will step in and get this thing settled, maybe even the Gubenator. In the meantime, I thought I heard on TV (I wasn’t paying attention) someone mention George Clooney as the guy who could get both sides to the table. What a great idea.  Who’s gonna say no to George Clooney?

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The new season of Lost, ABC’s hit TV show, is one of the few that doesn’t debut this week; fans have to wait until February 08. Still there was enough lost in the past week to make one’s head spin. The Mets’ roller coaster season ended in a stunning loss last weekend. Britney Spears lost custody of her kids and could lose her dog too, if PETA has its way. Then Larry Craig lost his bid to remove his guilty plea for misconduct in Minneapolis but chose to stay in the Senate despite having already lost several key committee positions. Fred Thompson has certainly lost some of his luster as a candidate, if his recent performances are any indication. On a far more serious note, a distraught mother of three trying to make a plane to take her to a rehab facility lost her life in a holding cell in a Phoenix airport under somewhat suspicious circumstances. Myanmar, aka Burma, lost contact with the outside world when the repressive government attempted to shut off all communications in order to deflect attention away from its brutality against pro-democracy forces. Soldiers and civilians alike continue to lose their lives in Iraq and elsewhere in this troubled world of ours. I’m wondering, not for the first time, if here in the US, we’ve lost our way. Mostly I’m still waiting to hear exactly what our leaders, present and future, are going to do about it. And I don’t want to wait until February of 08 to find out.

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It’s only the second day of the New! Fall! Season! on TV and I’m already kicking myself for not buying the HBO/Showtime package my cable service offered last month. Call me a slave to lowbrow culture but I used to eagerly anticipate the new lineup of shows as much as any holiday. I’d watch nearly every show once, then make my selections. In the pre-Tivo days, I’d plan my evenings around those must-see shows and agonized when the networks scheduled favorites in the same time slot – those cads! Basic cable gave me more to choose from, especially with its summer series. Something’s off this fall. Nothing grabs me. Grey’s Anatomy? Been there, done that. House? I still love Hugh Laurie but his constantly curmugeon-y character is a drag to spend time with. Lost and 24sorry, but what the hell is going on anymore? The franchises are feeling stale and while I’m happy to see some of my favorite comedians hosting this or that game show, I’d rather watch their club routines on pay-per-view. I can’t tell on competition show from another – they all have one British (or Aussie) judge and another with some kind of issue (drugs? divorce? sexual identity? sleep deprivation?) The new stuff feels as if it’s planned for the 16-30 set – and maybe it is. Advertisers drive programming and apparently I am part of an undesireable demographic whose brand loyalty makes us less susceptible to the lure of new products than those fickle twenty-somethings. I won’t start on how wrong that thinking is – if they don’t believe our set is on the prowl for things to try and buy, it’s their loss. But I still want something to excite me. Maybe TV isn’t the best place to start; I do have a pile of interesting-looking books to read. Or I can still call my cable service; I think I’ve only missed two episodes of Tell Me You Love Me.

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It’s Friday the 13th, an unlucky day if you’re prone to superstition. Of course, things go wrong every day – accidents, foreclosures, health coverage denied – but still some people are extra vigilant on this day. You could argue that a week ending in Friday the 13th could be an unlucky week. Certainly it was for Katie Couric and John McCain; Katy slaps a staffer on the arm and John knocks a staffer or two off the payroll and makes an unfortunate call from the cloakroom and boom! word is they are suffering massive reversals of fortune. Of course these are well-paid, well-connected people but the media can be a cruel mistress and they are taking a public licking for sure. There was some glimmer of real talent on “America’s Got Talent” (yeah, I watched; it’s a slow summer, okay?) but some of those going on to the finals seem more lucky than gifted. Personally, I think David Hasselhoff is lucky to have a gig as a judge but who am I to hassle the Hoff? Harry doesn’t seem to be having much luck in the new Potter movie; he’s simultaneously struggling with teen angst and a world inattentive to imminent danger. Along those same lines, He-Whose-Mind-Will-Not-Be-Changed insists we “stay the course” in Iraq until September or until he doesn’t feel like it any more. Meanwhile, at least thirteen plans for staying/going/securing or something else are floating around Congress. Call me superstitious but I don’t see a fortuitous outcome.

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For some reason, I’m caught up with revisiting, reworking and repairing today – trying to fix an old watch and reworking some old ideas I have. I’ve got reruns on the brain, mainly because I forgot to tape the season finale of “Lost” and will have to catch it when it repeats just before the fall season. The supposedly new shows this summer are retreads, especially the reality shows, with singing, dancing and surviving competitions and variations on one game show or another. The cycle of movie sequels shifts into full gear as we welcome back familiar superheroes, ogres and pirates. No matter that the critics have reacted with disfavor; “Spiderman 3,” “Shrek 3” and (might as well call it) “Pirates 3” are dominating the box office. I think the marketing folks count on the fact that we like to invest our hard-earned money and time on known quantities, whether it’s movies or coffee. Maybe it’s why we elect the same politicians over and over but it’s too nice a day and too close to the holidays to start down that road. Speaking of roads, they are filling up with drivers who, despite facing (once again) obscenely high gas prices, are heading in droves to other places. Meanwhile, I’ll be seeing and entertaining friends close to home – just like I always do.

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I read pretty voraciously but I admit I enjoy sitting in front of the tube, usually while doing something else like reading. I tend to like the traditional dramas or “dramadies” as they’re now called. There are a few shows I watch regularly but nothing has inspired me to become a long-term fan like I used to be. This year’s season finales have really annoyed me for some reason. I guess that’s okay. I won’t need to make the effort next season to be home on Thursday (or Wednesday or Sunday) evening. I’ll read more or get out more. Still, I can’t help but feel disappointed, as if an old friend has let me down. Maybe I should look into premium cable.

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There are so many things on my mind today: Tony Blair’s announced departure and his complicated legacy; the proposed R-rating for movies that “glamorize” smoking along with sex and violence (I hope that’s not retroactive); nagging questions about whether Ben really murdered John Locke on “Lost.” Yet here I am obsessing about the letter to the editor I saw in today’s paper from a high school junior. Never mind what it was about. It was a terrific letter: reasoned, thoughtful and extremely well-written. Given what passes for communication these days, it’s nice to know we can still come upon articulate expression from the under-eighteen set. Anyway, it just sort of made my day.

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