Tag Archives: PBS

USA – (PBS + NPR) = WTF?

Really? We need to cut spending and this is where we start?

Why is this even a left vs. right issue anyway? Isn’t it appalling enough that your elected officials – supposedly representatives in the full sense of the word – align and vote according to party lines rather than for their constituents? Are there really communities of people who don’t want the availability of television (PBS) and radio (NPR) that is not owned and operated by a corporation’s political contributions? FOX shills for the right, MSNBC shills for the left, and those seeking unbiased reporting about America have to turn to the BBC?

PBS is a proven source of educational programming whose effects upon participants is well documented. Programs like Sesame Street and Reading Rainbow revolutionized the way television could be used to jump-start a child’s ability to grasp and learn fundamental skills. Granted, the issue is not targeting specific programs but the funneling of public money to arts channels. But those matching grants and supplemental contributions are often the difference between whether a program gets made or not. And with the economy in the toilet, public contributions are down, because people cannot afford to be as generous.

But those people aren’t buying twelve hundred dollar hammers or giving themselves lifetime perks of retirement funds and health care (that they deny to the very people who elected them to serve). These contributors are mostly people like you and me trying to heat our homes and put food on the table.

I’m sure I could find fat on the bone somewhere else. So can you.

I mean, what has to be done to convince these political dunderheads that our failing educational system is an integral part of our fall from grace (right alongside corporate greed, public indifference and the insistence on propping up governments around the world to support our corporate interests while our own population is underemployed, hungry and in need of basic human services)?

Do I have to type shorter sentences?

Do I have to sign yet another petition?

Does LeVar Burton have to appear on Community to remind us how we didn’t save Reading Rainbow?

Or can we perhaps just get it through our thick skulls that the very name “Corporation for Public Broadcasting” is an oxymoron? Maybe we don’t need to cut funding, but to fund better?

Maybe Congress should be spending some time figuring out how to better fund and manage an institution that is supposed to service the entire country by providing funding to “promote ideas and perspectives that are ignored or underrepresented in the commercial media“.

Of course that would mean Congress has less time to pointlessly witch-hunt Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, but dammit, sacrifices must be made.

If you want more information or want to get involved, click here.

Today’s topic was brought to you by the letters E-L-I.

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Never Mind The Buzzcocks

Thanks to another recently converted-to-region free DVD player, I’ve been catching up on some great comedy from across the Big Pond. Although most of my also-converted money has been going for stand-up comedy shows, I’ve also been loading up on some bargains on comic panel shows like Mock The Week, 8 out of 10 Cats and an old favorite, Never Mind The Buzzcocks. In 2009, an excellent DVD was released featuring clips from the show’s lengthy run under recent host Simon Amstell with great featurettes and gag reels.

Amstell is a cocky, cheek host who (depending on which year’s hairstyle) looks like a cross between Michael Cera and a pre-weightlifting Carrot Top. The irreverent panel show features a host and two teams of comics and pop culture stars, many of whom are complete unknowns stateside but household words there, like longtime team captain Bill Bailey, Jack Dee, Frank Skinner, Catherine Tate, Frankie Boyle and Martin Freeman. Of course many pop culture celebrities would appear as guests to take the piss out of themselves and others, most of whom got into the spirit of the event, although when they didn’t (I’m talking to you, Lemmy!) that could be fun as well. Many appear on this DVD; two of the funniest are Russell Brand and Amy Winehouse, albeit for opposite reasons.

I first heard of the show years ago and tuned in because I thought it was actually about The Buzzcocks, one of the finest bands of the late 70s punk pop movement. (The show did get its title by mixing  the band name and the Sex Pistols album Never Mind The Bollocks). Although initially disappointed, I was soon swept up into the pulse of the show, which ranges from good sarcastic fun to sheer lunacy. Pop culture cows are gutted and nothing – and no one – is sacred. My younger daughter is a fan of the show, and this holiday we skipped the usual Sci-Fi marathons to watch every minute of this great collection.

Is there a Doctor in the house?

I used to watch the show on occasion as various cable packages over the years were sketchy on what UK programming might be included in the package. Perhaps like Monty Python and Benny Hill, it was the PBS station to the rescue once again. (Yet another reason to support their annual fund-raising drive when the envelopes arrive in December!) As with many successful UK shows, eventually the US tries to copy it. Hard to believe that I not only forgot that this happened with Buzzcocks, but also that the host of the US version was one of my favorites, Marc Maron. (The show lasted one season on vH-1.)

Some households gorge on college football during the Thanksgiving holidays.

I’ll take comedy every time.

The show’sWiki page and list of episodes.

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T.G.I.F. – Ten Smiles of the Week

Barry Levinson’s great film Diner remains one of my favorite movies, ever. Wonderful cast – Daniel Stern, Mickey Rourke, Ellen Barkin, Paul Reiser, Kevin Bacon and many more – and although the coming of age story predates my own, I can identify with the feeling of juggling hope and hopelessness one encounters when transitioning into a more responsible life. Music geeks will identify with Shrieve; his obsessive knowledge of the tiniest fragment of information on a record, his frustration when his wife can’t follow his complicated system and misfiles his albums after playing them.

Bacon plays an irreverent, drunken guy who just doesn’t take anything seriously; he’s in it for the laughs. When something great happens, he often declares that it’s the “smile of the week“.

I’ll take a slight liberty with his phrase for my TGIF theme this week and list ten things that brought a smile to my face during a week when I really needed it. So enjoy these Ten Smiles Of The Week

(01) Australian comic genius Jim Jefferies

(02) Gov’t Mule playing Neil Young‘s Rockin’ In The Free World

(03) What Tina Fey really said during the Mark Twain Award ceremony.

(04) Rich Vos killing at the Jim Florentine Roast

(05) The Futon Critic‘s list of remaining TV episodes.

Great album!

(06) Brendan Benson and The Posies playing “September Gurls

(07) Newly revised NFL logos (don’t miss page 2 as well)

(08) How to make millions…by farming!

(09) Titus Welliver, who makes any show better just by being in it.

(10) Daniel Stern and Ellen Barkin in that scene from Diner.

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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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Monty Python, Again

No Spam here.

Monty Python: The Other British Invasion. Great DVD documentary about how the comedy troupe changed America…albeit by accident.

This two-disc documentary about the origins of Monty Python is an informative and enjoyable blend of archival information and contemporary interviews. There are no skits within, only occasional excerpts; instead the programs focus upon how the infamous troupe first met, overcame numerous obstacles and eventually became world-famous practitioners of absurdly silly comedy.

Graham Chapman, Michael Palin, John Cleese, Terry Jones, Terry Gilliam and Eric Idle all found that thread of madness in their youthful experiences that demonstrated they saw life a bit differently. And once they realized that there were others who shared this skewed vision, they quickly immersed themselves in a myriad of artistic endeavors until their paths finally crossed into this immortal configuration.

Read the full review at PopMatters.

***

R.I.P. Jay Reatard

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It’s Not Easy Being Yellow

Sesame Street

Would...you be...my neighbor? (Oops, wrong show...)

If you think it’s not easy being green, imagine how hard it is to be yellow! Carol Spinney has been playing the part of Big Bird since Sesame Street debuted on television forty years ago today. You may not realize that Spinney started playing the character while in his mid-30s, so the guy lifting that five-pound head with his arm is still doing it in his 70s (and no doubt he could whip you at arm-wrestling as well). Just one of the thousands of tidbits that will no doubt flood the Internet today as we celebrate and appreciate the program.

Sesame Street probably did as much to promote Public Television as those channels did to promote the show, a landmark exercise in combining educational television with entertainment. I was just old enough to be above their target demographic, although later on I’d come to appreciate the many adult moments the show offered (see below). I don’t know anyone today who grew up in the era who doesn’t have fond memories of watching the program.

Big Bird reading

A couple of generations ago most kids had two parents, and one of them was usually home. Mom or Dad could read to them and teach them the alphabet and how numbers worked so when they went off to school it wasn’t as intimidating. But over time the divorce rate started skyrocketing and many households suddenly needed two earners, and time with children became a precious commodity. When Sesame Street came along, for once sitting a kid in front of a television as a babysitting exercise wasn’t a bad thing.

But watching the show with your kids had greater benefits. Eventually, along with basic math and reading skills came life lessons, presented in a way that children could understand and discuss with their parents.

The Count

What imagination went into these characters and the program. Although never the most popular, my favorite was always The Count. That probably explains why I love Greg The Bunny as much as I do. (“Don’t turn this into Abbott and Costello, kid!“)

I also grew to like the human characters who interacted with the Muppets, like Gordon and Susan and Bob, and the list of celebrities who guested is staggering. As a result, just like with Rocky and Bullwinkle and the Road Runner cartoons, Sesame Street has a lot to offer adults, too. Like…

Sesame Street cast

Today’s column was brought to you by the letters D, R and B.

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Under The Radar – Howling Diablos

Gonna do me some howlin'...

Gonna do me some howlin'...

If you have heard of The Howling Diablos and have been enjoying their stew of soul, funk, rock and blues, I have one question to ask of you. Why didn’t you tell me sooner?

Al Kooper defined them as a cross between Howlin’ Wolf, Captain Beefheart and Canned Heat, and that’s a damned accurate description, although I’d add a healthy dash of Sly Stone and P-Funk to the mix. Tino Gross’ guttural growls spearhead their powerful sound, with the whipcrack rhythm of Mo Hollis on bass and the legendary Johnny “Bee” Badanjek on drums acting as a thundering pulse. The flavor is peppered by guitarist Erik Gustafson and harp/sax player Johnny Evans. It’s a gritty, urban street sound, tangents of Delta blues, hip-hop and even classic jazz brass bubbling up and popping for a sensual mix.

But yeah, baby, they do rock. How about “Gloria“?

The Howling Diablos have a handful of releases available (I can’t find their early release Beatnick Mambo): Car Wash, Live, Green Bottle, Christmas In Jail and this latest gumbo crockpot, Divine Trash Highway. Featuring guest spots from  Calvin Cooke (sweet sacred steel highlights the opener “If You Love Someone”), Vinnie Dombrowski, keyboardist Jimmy Bones and a host of Detroit luminaries (Bobby East!), this is an album that just oozes groove. “Check It Out” is a perfect example of soul/funk hybrid that makes it impossible to sit still, although it’s the kickin’ cut “Josephine” that really has me bobbing my head like a park pigeon

“Dodge Main” rocks as does the blues blower “Leaving In The Morning”, and even a fairly reverent cover of Randy Newman’s “Mama Told Me Not To Come” succeeds. I’m not as high on “Mom” and “Hobo Jungle”, but I will admit that the latter sounds like mid-period Jeff Beck crossed swords with Sun Ra. “Junkyard Jesus” sounds like the missing sibling of Marah’s brilliant track “Catfisherman” (really – play the two songs back to back – that’s a compliment to both tunes). And if you’re not skanking to the title track…well, there’s something wrong with you.

In addition, they’re included on the Sun Records tribute Good Rockin Tonight (the Diablos cut “Wine Spo Dee O Dee” with a guest appearance from Kid Rock) which led to a film for the American Masters series on PBS that includes a performance by the band. (Reportedly Kid Rock – then Robert Ritchie – was a band member in the embryonic days when the nucleus of the band got together to jam and back up other artists).

Tino Gross also produces records for Fat Possumis that enough cred for you? But as much as their albums are rump-quaking, ass-shaking, rocking good times, like most bands they turn it up several notches when they hit the stage. They’ve toured with and opened for a ton of bands, and although I have yet to sweat in the same room with these guys – and I will – there are visual testaments out there thanks to Al Gore’s invention. All it will take is one song to convince you…check out this video for the song Car Wash. Folks, this is greasy.

Start howlin’!

Howling Diablos on MySpace.

Howling Diablos website.

Criminal Mind” video, from 2009 gig opening for J Geils.

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