Tag Archives: David Letterman

Heeeeeere’s Johnny!

Nineteen years ago today, Johnny Carson said goodbye.

Retiring after thirty years at the age of 66, Carson walked away from a show that became part of the fabric of American pop culture. Much like Ed Sullivan’s variety show, unknown performers could become instant superstars just by nailing a single appearance. Carson didn’t start the Tonight Show (Steve Allen and Jack Paar preceded him), nor would he finish it, but his impact upon it and the late-night talk show design will forever be paramount.

Other talk shows of the day were warm and fuzzy (Merv Griffin, Mike Douglas) or a bit cerebral (Dick Cavett); Carson blended both with a parade of incredible guests and a willingness to be as serious or silly as the situation required. He let people be themselves. During his reign, the show’s title became secondary to the man; artists simply referred to “being on Carson“.

On his final night, Carson went out with grace and class:

And so it has come to this: I, uh… am one of the lucky people in the world; I found something I always wanted to do and I have enjoyed every single minute of it. I want to thank the gentlemen who’ve shared this stage with me for thirty years. Mr. Ed McMahon, Mr. Doc Severinsen, and you people watching. I can only tell you that it has been an honor and a privilege to come into your homes all these years and entertain you. And I hope when I find something that I want to do and I think you would like and come back that you’ll be as gracious in inviting me into your home as you have been. I bid you a very heartfelt good night.”

Video: Excerpts from the final show

Although he never came back into the public eye, his legacy lives on through everyone who speaks into a microphone from behind a desk, and the advent of cable television has allowed many students to co-exist in the form. While initially his replacement Jay Leno and his protegé David Letterman split the bulk of the audience, a flood of worthy children now occupy the night-time hours and will be worthy successors to their aging mentors.

Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert and Bill Maher have taken the political end of the spectrum to new heights; Stewart is often singled out as the most trusted source of news on television, despite his consistent disclaimer that his is a comedy show. (Speaks volumes about the networks, doesn’t it?).

After holding slots previously occupied by both Leno and Letterman, Conan O’Brien’s new TBS effort proved that people will follow the man, not the show. The embarrassing NBC debacle was followed by the guerilla Team Coco movement, and Conan remains a strong brand and a unique personality.

After shaky starts, Jimmy Kimmel, Craig Ferguson and especially Jimmy Fallon have proven to have solid and consistent programs that attract first-rate guests and feature brilliant writing. Along with smaller network show hosts (Chelsea Handler, George Lopez, Mo’Nique, Graham Norton), the comedy/music/chat formula is in good hands.

But to a person, each will point a finger back at the master, Johnny Carson.

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It’s Been Real

Sure, the event coincides with the availability of a new 6-disc DVD called The Ernie Kovacs Collection which hits the shelves on April 19. But paying tribute to one of television’s true pioneers is always a good thing, so I have no problem spreading the word.

On April 12th, Keith Olbermann will moderate a panel discussion that will focus on the impact Ernie Kovacs has had on television and on specific creators, long after his death in a car accident in 1962. The program will incorporate a wide range of Kovacs’ work in its original form and some repackaged to address specific themes. 

Most of these shows, which have never been screened since their original airings, have been newly transferred from original 16mm kinescopes and curated by noted film/television historian Ben Model. Much of Kovacs’ works have been archived at the Paley Center since his widow Edie Adams delivered original kinescopes and tapes dating back to the 1970s.

Model will participate on the panel at The Paley Center along with comedian and Kovacs fan Joel Hodgson,(Mystery Science Theater 3000), humorist-comedian-writer Robert Smigel, Laugh In creator George Schlatter, and Jolene Brand, a Kovacs cast member on his ABC specials.

Video: The Aesop Broadcasting Company (Weekend Update, prostrate thyself and pay homage!)

Ernie Kovacs transformed television’s early era with offbeat humor, sight gags and lunacy that had not been seen before. Scholars have remarked that Kovacs understood the impact and possibilities of television before many of his contemporaries. In fact, Kovacs is credited with shaping the medium’s visual possibilities rather than simply putting a picture to a popular radio show. Pretty much any television host or program with a taste for the absurd can be traced back to Kovacs, from Monty Python, SNL and Pee Wee’s Playhouse to late night hosts like Carson, Letterman and Ferguson.

As Kovacs said. “nothing in moderation“.

Click here for more information about the event.

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…and now, The Oscars

Finally, the big daddy of the back-patting events is upon us.

Tonight’s Oscar hosts are James Franco and Anne Hathaway, as the industry makes an obvious ploy to skew younger. That sentiment probably won’t carry over into the actual voting, where veteran actors who might have been bypassed earlier in their careers get rewarded at the expense of a newcomer who has his whole career ahead of him. Really…Al Pacino won for Scent Of A Woman? Paul Newman won for The Color Of Money?

And sometimes this screws over a more deserving veteran actor. Yes, I’m talking to you, Henry Fonda! No way Burt Lancaster shouldn’t have won in 1981 for his amazing performance in Atlantic City!)

But I digress. The Oscar host thing has always been a conundrum. Bob Hope owned the role for years, as did Johnny CarsonBilly Crystal did it well and got to keep the job for a while, seemingly alternating every couple of years with Steve Martin and Whoopi Goldberg. But lately it’s been as volatile and unpredictable as a Charlie Sheen alibi; the only repeat host in the last ten years was Jon Stewart in 2006 and 2008 (Steve Martin hosted in 2003 but co-hosted in 2010). Stewart was excellent, but has the grind of his Daily Show schedule. But Wolverine Hugh Jackman was incredibly game and entertaining and got raves for his stint, yet wasn’t asked to repeat?

Perhaps tonight will be fine; Franco is a likeable guy, and Hathaway proved she is as fearless as she is talented when she joined Jackman onstage a few years ago. But for the self-proclaimed “Hollywood’s Biggest Night“, one would expect a real game-changer at the helm. And as afraid of him as they obviously are, I think any awards show not hiring Ricky Gervais is settling.

Here is the list of nominees.

I’m pretty much sticking with the picks I made right after the nominations came out, although The King’s Speech has picked up incredible momentum since then, along with Geoffrey Rush. But I have a feeling that the Darren Aronofsky magic touch will again become the Darren Aronofsky curse; Mickey Rourke lost to more established Hollywood veteran Sean Penn, and Annette Bening has never won for Best Actress despite four nominations. (No truth to the rumor that Natalie Portman got pregnant to sway the sympathy vote.) I also wouldn’t bet my life on Supporting Actress, as this is a category where teenagers can and do win, especially when they are playing more of a lead role.

My predictions for tonight’s winners:

Best Picture: The Social Network
Best Director: David Fincher, The Social Network
Best Actor: Colin Firth, The King’s Speech
Best Actress: Annette Bening, The Kids Are Alright
Best Supporting Actor: Christian Bale, The Fighter
Best Supporting Actress: Melissa Leo, The Fighter
Best Adapted Screenplay: Aaron Sorkin, The Social Network
Best Original Screenplay: Christopher Nolan, Inception
Best Cinematography: Wally Pfister, Inception
Best Score: Trent Reznor, The Social Network

While you await tonight’s ceremony here are some treats to pass the time:

Conan O’Brien and Andy Richter act out the Best Picture nominees

Ricky Gervais wrote an opening script for Franco and Hathaway

You can bet on anything – even the In Memorium montage.

Racetrack odds on tonight’s favorites to Win…Place and Show mean nothing!

***

Tomorrow: The winners, the losers, the analysis.

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At The Movies No More

I knew this was coming down the pike ever since the announcement many months ago, but having just watched the very last episode of At The Movies, I’m still a little saddened.

Like many, I grew up watching Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert over the years, and thanks to their passion and savvy and wit I was exposed to far more films than I ever would have discovered on my own. Long before the Internet – hell, before cable television, the local PBS station would air the show at what usually was an ungodly hour. And since there were no VCRs yet either, only by living a lifestyle that found me awake at those ungodly hours allowed me to luck into their program.

They had a tremendous run and became celebrities themselves, their faux rivalry and fights always good for a joke with Johnny Carson or David Letterman, but it was obvious to anyone watching their interaction that Gene and Roger were brothers under it all. Brothers fight and brothers sometimes say hurtful things, but brothers share a bond that survives the worst of times. Brothers have each other’s back when the chips are down. Sadly, Gene was taken from us way too soon; Ebert’s eulogies and remembrances of Siskel are some of the most heartfelt words I’ve ever read.

Ebert soldiered on with a few guest partners before teaming with Richard Roeper for over six years before his own health forced him to take a back seat. Roeper in turn honored Ebert by engaging with a roundtable of guest critics until the program was disastrously revamped to attract a younger demographic with Ben Lyons and Ben Mankiewicz as hosts. I’ve already beat that dead horse.

When Buena Vista finally realized what everyone else had a year earlier, out went the Bens and in came two of the guests from the Roeper era, A.O. Scott and Michael Phillips. The show reverted to the tried-and-true format of simply showing clips and talking about the movies without all the whiz-bang fluff that was tried the year before. (In other words, the IQ level of the show broke triple digits again). But the damage had been done.

Although it’s not an expensive show to produce, technology now allows movie fans instant access to full trailers, films-on-demand, phenomenal promotional videos and hundreds of websites that distill critical analysis of the latest films and even collect them in a central location. Just like online news feeds are making the physical newspaper obsolete, a show with two talking heads is not as unique as it was in those dark and desperate pre-cable days, no matter how good the hosts are. There are entire networks devoted to clip shows, and ironically they’re aired on one in my town, just another block of time in a highlight world.

The last show went out with a classy look back at its origins and a hint that maybe Scott and Phillips have some future plans up their sleeve. Ebert and Roeper have also mentioned in the past that they were looking at other options. These guys are still around, and I’ll still read them however I can, even as I browse some of those websites that no doubt took their idea and expanded upon it. I won’t have to miss their thoughts and words.

But after thirty-five years, I will miss my weekly fix on television.

At The Movies history

At The Movies official website.

Roger Ebert’s blog.

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Holy Crap! Conan to TBS!

I guess George Lopez is taking to everybody these days.

First Sandra Bullock. Now Conan.

“If you haven’t heard by now, Conan O’Brien will be joining us on late-night on TBS. Welcome!, Welcome! I want to say this, I want to say that I am completely 100% on board with this move. I talked to Conan on Wednesday and I talked to him last night and I said I welcome you into my deep loving embrace. Then I said let’s take the party and make it bigger and take it into the next generation of late-night TV. Lets do that! Lets do that! Lets do that! Everybody’s heard of ‘I’m with CoCo’ but now everybody can ‘Go LoCo’.”

Lopez also made a great crack about how doing his show an hour later wouldn’t be the same – basically a nod and a wink to Conan’s response to NBC. Of course, he’s able to laugh because he knows that he just scored a major lead-in for his show.

Yeah, I was shocked at the TBS signing; I figured FOX was in the driver’s seat all the way. And I wasn’t the only one with dropped jaw. But it makes sense for a network that refers to itself as “very funny”. They need to be very funny. And Conan fills the bill.

Face it, the Tonight Show is a brand name, but the legacy is irrevocably tarnished. People refer to the choice as Leno or Letterman, not Late Night vs. The Tonight Show. And Leno’s viewing audience is old…and getting older. Lopez, on the other hand, skews young. So does Conan. Tonight might have the name, but lately Jimmy Fallon is hipper, and NBC knows it. Enjoy that deal with the devil.

This year TBS even tried a comedy show – underpromoted, of course – called Very Funny. Imagine how much talent they will attract when the comedians know they will be cross-promoted on Conan’s show…where they will also appear. Imagine the new wave of comedians that will get airtime knowing that they are on basic cable, not network television.

And frankly, aside from the depth of penetration, what is network television? Very few cities still receive over-air broadcast; it’s almost all digital. Most people get something beyond basic cable, and many of those basic cable packages include TBS. And thanks to Al Gore, we have this medium you’re using right now. In other words, a platform is a platform in the twenty-first century. If you want to see something, you can.

All Conan did over the past year was (1) legitimize his ability on the grander stage, (2) exit a horrible situation with class, good will and a shitload of money, and (3) raise his profile ten times higher than a great run on NBC would have done. Win, win and win.

I cannot wait! Until then, catch the mad redhead on the road.

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Remembering Sam Kinison

Hard to believe that it’s eighteen years since Sam Kinsion was killed.

Like many, my first exposure to Sam’s mania was on the Young Comedian’s Special on HBO, hosted by Rodney Dangerfield. He was onstage for six minutes – six – and I’ll wager that anyone who watched that show that evening was on the phone by morning, calling a friend and saying “Holy shit…you have to see this guy!”.

Sam on the 1984 Young Comedian’s Special

Dangerfield proved to be a friend and mentor to Sam. Unlike some comedians, Rodney wasn’t afraid of competition from other comics, and Sam was incandescent from his first appearance. Rodney created the role of Professor Turgeson in his new movie Back To School just to give him a cameo, which Sam turned into one of the film’s best moments.

Sam’s routines on television were legendary; David Letterman‘s classic introduction for him was “Brace yourselves. I’m not kidding. Please welcome Sam Kinison.”

Sam Kinison’s debut on Letterman.

But you had to see him live. I was fortunate enough to see Sam three times; the first was in a tiny basement club with black walls and ceiling and a tiny stage with a couple of lights. Didn’t matter – Sam brought his own flame. He hit the stage with more energy and power than many of the rock bands that played there; his incendiary performance singed the hair off every head in the crowd. It was one of the most intense experiences of my life; I laughed my ass off but felt like I was pinned to the chair by a gale force wind the entire time.

Thankfully there are a few recorded documents to preserve Sam’s greatness. He issued three albums (Louder Than Hell, Have You Seen Me Lately?, Leader of the Banned); a fourth (Live From Hell) was released posthumously. (There are also some rarities available at the official website.) There are several DVDs available containing performance footage from Sam’s shows;  Wild Child collects a few of them together at one low price.

Brother Sam, a reminiscence by Sam’s brother Bill, is an excellent read. While the film based upon the book (with Dan Fogler as Sam) has not yet surfaced, the latest word is that HBO has it scheduled for 2012, the twentieth anniversary of his death. (A similarly titled documentary was released in 2005 featuring Bill and Rodney Dangerfield introducing a series of clips from Sam’s concerts.)

When mercurial artists die young, sometimes their short careers become over-rated because all we have to judge them by are a few brief moments that we extrapolate. History tells us that no one stays on top forever; Jimi Hendrix would have made a disappointing album at some point and James Dean would have starred in a clunker. Sam died young but we already got to see the ups and downs; he had streaks of absolute brilliance and periods of wasted excess. We saw him get off the mat and stand up again.

But what Sam always had was an insatiable need to connect, and had he lived I’m certain he would have been one of our greatest social critics, for he had no sacred cows. We lost Sam and Bill Hicks within two years of each other, two fearless comics who threw the truth out there in very different ways, both sadly gone in their 30’s. But the legacy of Bill Hicks lives on, sparked again with the release of American this year. Hopefully Sam’s movie will help perpetuate his memory and introduce him to a whole generation of people who have grown up without him. R.I.P., Sam.

Visit Sam Kinsion‘s official website.

Sam’s Wikipedia page.

Craig Gass doesn’t look like Sam, but close your eyes and listen.

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Stand Up Wit…Dwayne Kennedy

Oh. My. God.

Prescriptioneers know I am a huge Marc Maron fan. Love the guy. Along with Doug Stanhope and Louis C.K., maybe the very best comedian on the planet at this moment. And his twice-a-week podcast, WTF, is a godsend.

Prescriptioneers also know that I have been touting Dwayne Kennedy for years. Well, today, the parallel universes crossed paths. Dwayne Kennedy joined Marc Maron on Episode 46 of WTF.

If you’re scratching your head trying to place the name Dwayne Kennedy, maybe Maron put it best in his introduction when he says “as soon as anything is about to happen for Dwayne – in a big way, in a show business way – Dwayne disappears!”

I first saw Dwayne do short sets on a couple of comedy shows and he absolutely killed, so I hit his pseudo-website which said that there was a CD that would be coming along soon. Of course, that was 2003…wherever that website was, it’s long gone. And sightings since then, sadly, have been few and far-between.

Dwayne Kennedy is absolutely funny as hell. His bits about the Bible and window shopping when poor, and young dumbasses and Jesus’ lesser known brother are flat-out brilliant. Somebody needs to go ring his doorbell, get him out to a taping and let him fly. It is criminal that there isn’t a CD or DVD out there to document what he does and widen his audience. And until he/they do that, savor these moments.

Dwayne’s first time on David Letterman and his second.

Dwayne on Jimmy Kimmel.

Dwayne’s new website – sadly, still no CD.

"No! I don't have a clue! But good luck in prison!"

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