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Wednesday, December 28, 2005
|The world's smallest film contest:|
Bigger houses, bigger cars, bigger portions at the local fast food joint. In America, the guiding maxim is to think big. Really big.Doorknob films writ large, anyone? [inside joke]
Monday, December 26, 2005
|Character Actor Vincent Schiavelli Dies:|
Vincent Schiavelli, the droopy-eyed character actor who appeared in scores of movies, including "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" and "Ghost," died Monday at his home in Sicily. He was 57.Like his character from Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Mr. Vargas, said, "If you don't mind, I just switched to Sanka. So have a heart."
Okay, that's not really prime epitaph material, but Schiavelli was, indeed, a great character actor. Even ignoring his not insignificant movie career, the list of TV series he guested on reads like a history lesson in iconic TV for three decades. In the '70s, WKRP in Cincinnati, Charlie's Angels, Hart to Hart, and Starsky and Hutch. In the '80s, Moonlighting, Knots Landing, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Matlock, MacGyver, Cagney & Lacey, Remington Steele, The Fall Guy, and Who's the Boss? And in the '90s, The X Files, Melrose Place, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Baywatch Nights.
One of the important items his obits seem to be omiting, however, is that he hosted a PBS cooking show, The Chefs of Cucina Amore. Not that the series was an important one, but it was one of the very few starring vehicles Schiavelli had in TV.
We'll just forget about his role as Leonard the Caddy in Dorf on Golf and Dorf and the First Games of Mount Olympus, however.
Sunday, December 25, 2005
|Christopher Guest passes along his holiday reading list.|
Brian Sack presents the 12 Days of eBay.
David Mamet doodles up some carol-themed political satire.
The Onion: Rove Implicated In Santa Identity Leak!
Saturday, December 24, 2005
|Spanish radio station apologizes for prank:|
A Spanish radio station apologized Friday for a hoax in which its comedian pretending to be Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero phoned Bolivia's newly elected president and congratulated him on his victory.As the article notes, this hoax was not unique. It mentions that "in 1995, a Canadian DJ pretending to be Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien called Buckingham Palace and was able to speak to Queen Elizabeth for 15 minutes on air."
Additionally, there are the Miami DJs who pranked both Cuban leader Fidel Castro and Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez.
Friday, December 23, 2005
|While browsing the IMDb, found out the following crucial info:|
Christopher Guest's next film is For Your Consideration, to be released (limited) on Sept. 22, 2006. Here's some basic plot and cast info.
Also, The Simpsons movie is slated for a November 2008 release.
Also (unrelated to the IMDb), check out this very interesting discussion of the troubled--and, as yet unrealized--journey of the great novel A Confederacy of Dunces to the big screen.
Wednesday, December 21, 2005
|May this darkest day be for you bright!|
Monday, December 19, 2005
|E-Paper's Killer App: Packaging:|
The cereal aisle at your local supermarket may soon resemble the Las Vegas strip. Electronics maker Siemens is readying a paper-thin electronic-display technology so cheap it could replace conventional labels on disposable packaging, from milk cartons to boxes of Cheerios.Kill me now.
Sunday, December 18, 2005
|I don't know whether to congratulate (for the publicity) or to offer condolences (for being in the eye of multiple business hurricanes), but a NJ music retailer I made commericals for/worked with/shopped from numerous times back in my Jersey days--Rob Roth of Vintage Vinyl--has been quoted recently several times in major publications.|
From the Wall Street Journal, in an article about the music industry's holiday slump:
Things are so tough that Rob Roth, owner of the Vintage Vinyl music store in Fords, N.J., says that being able to simply keep pace with last year's sales puts him among the lucky few. His new motto: "Flat is the new up."And in a Rolling Stone piece about Sony BMG's copy protection issues:
The controversy has left some fans baffled. "They don't know which CDs are Sony -- they just heard that CDs ruin their computers," says Rob Roth, owner of Vintage Vinyl in Fords, New Jersey. "It hurts sales."Although I used to shop there much more frequently when they had their Ocean Township location, I always spent much more money than I was intending whenever I went!
(FYI: this post's title is the store's slogan)
Saturday, December 17, 2005
|While awaiting my Chinese takeout to be prepared last evening, I wandered into a used CD/DVD store and was browsing the selections. I decided to buy a DVD for something to watch during the proper disposal of my sesame tofu. I was in the mood for good ironic viewing, like a '70s TV show (perhaps this). On the other hand, this or this would have been enjoyable, non-ironic entertainment.|
Unfortunately, the store had no DVDs for which I was really in the mood. But then I noticed they had a shelf of used VHS tapes for sale in the $1-$2.50 range.
I generally have no enthusiasm for the VHS format. It's not that I only want the latest content delivery systems--I still purchase plenty of vinyl records with delight--it's that VHS just plain sucked. The quality was weak, the tape deteriorated rapidly, and the cassette itself was prone to breakage and jamming (unlike audio tapes; I have many even cheap-grade audio recordings from 25 years ago that still sound and play like new).
But for $2.50? That's a decent price even if used as a one-viewing-then-tossing purchase. So I got two movies. One was a pre digital "enhancement" Star Wars Episode IV. This was the 1995 "last chance to own the original trilogy" edition, in all its choppy/fuzzy SFX glory.
Ah! Luke's landspeeder with the "erased" wheels beneath it! Spaceships with blocky matte artifacts around it! No CG creatures cluttering up the mise-en-scène!
This edition also featured an excruciating Leonard Maltin interview with George Lucas prior to the "feature presentation."
I also picked up one of the few major '70s disaster pics I've never seen: 1974's Earthquake (written on the box as An Event... Earthquake). An all-star cast! Charlton Heston! George Kennedy! Um...er, Lorne Greene! Richard Roundtree! Uh, Genevieve Bujold!
The back cover of the tape promises "some of the most chilling special effects ever filmed." And, mind you, this packaging was printed in 1993--long after '74 vintage SFX moved from the "chilling" column to the "laughable" one.
The Star Wars viewing was last night, and Earthquake may be today (alas, not in the original Sensurround). Perhaps I'll give an update.
UPDATE: Saw Earthquake. Although a few scenarios were quite effectively rendered, the SFX were clearly not "chilling." On the whole, I'd put it at just below the disaster movie level as The Poseidon Adventure, with about the same level of cheesiness, only not quite as iconic. However, Victoria Principal and Genevieve Bujold were quite the dishes.
Friday, December 16, 2005
|Howard Stern retired from radio today. The popular narrative is that he is merely transitioning from terrestrial broadcasting to satellite radio, but in reality he's cashing out for retirement.|
To be upfront: while I have a lot of respect for Stern as a broadcaster, I've never been a fan. I first heard about him in 1983 when my family moved to New Jersey, and I saw TV ads for WNBC radio featuring both Don Imus and Stern physically grabbing listeners. A few later, I had friends who were fans, but I really didn't listen to him myself. The first time I remember hearing him, was a "Best of Stern" broadcast during the winter of '05-'06 in which he, IIRC, had guest Debbie Harry perform her Blondie hit "One Way or Another" and he sang merrily along. In 1991, he officially became my competitor when I took over the morning show at WHTG (although clearly I wasn't really competiting with him, as we were a music-intensive station and morning drive was no different).
But although not a fan, I'm not saying he's retiring for reason of snark. Supporters--even those within the industry--compare such predictions to naysaying before his past accomplishments. But this move is unlike anything in Stern's past.
First of all, this is the first time he's taking a significant backwards step in potential audience. His terrestrial audience is 12 million listeners, while the entire Sirius subscriber base is 2.2 million and only a percentage of these will be Stern listeners.
In the past, Stern's audience growth was possible by convincing a station's management to become an affiliate--until Janet Jackson's wardrobe malfunction, not a hard sell in most of the country due to his phenomenal success elsewhere. In each new market, Stern and his affiliates could target their competition strategically. As trade mag FMQB wrote in 1996,
In market after market, the sign-on scenario followed a predictable path: intense media coverage, an uproar from the religious right, petitions, boycotts, even death threats – all driving cume into the radio station.And then the market would see another big wave of media local coverage when Stern paid a market visit to stage a mock funeral for his competitors. It's basically the syndicated radio host version of the Wal-mart strategy.
In the satellite model, though, he's going to have to approach audience growth (a) on a national level at once, and (b) one subscriber at a time. If he tries to marshall his resources by targeting an individual market now, he no longer has a local launchpad (an affiliate) which lends local credibility, strong media contacts, and an angle for media stories.
Plus, he can't simply go to a station's GM or PD to grant their market's listeners essentially free access to his show. He'll now have to convince each potential listener, directly, to not only check him out, but to pay to do so. And that's an entirely different way of achieving growth, and one I have little doubt will be significantly harder.
The lower audience base will also have an effect on Stern's ability to bring in big-name guests. Publicists drooled over the prospect of getting their celeb on Stern not because of the host but because of his listener base. If smaller listener numbers causes a decrease in the frequency or quality of marquee guests, then Stern's fans may start to feel over time that the satellite show just isn't the same (which could combine with the loss of the FCC and station management as a foil to multiply the effect).
However, who knows what the future will show? A wholly new marketing strategy and a broadcaster as experienced as Stern might find a way to pull it off.
I doubt it, though.
Thursday, December 15, 2005
|I just saw someone on MySpace who put as her book interest "The Catcher and the Rye."|
One would think if one cared enough about a novel to cite it as one's sole "book interest," then one would actually get the title correct.
One would think, but one would be incorrect.
Tuesday, December 13, 2005
|It's a U.K. reality show called Space Cadets:|
Channel 4 is blasting a group of adventurers, ordinary members of the public, off into space to spend five days orbiting the earth. It's thrilling, it's exciting, and it's totally bogus.The spaceship is a surplus set from Clint Eastwood's Space Cowboys movie. Sounds entertaining.
|TV Writers Must Sell, Sell, Sell:|
TV networks are turning to product placements to fight back against ad-skipping technologies like TiVo, but now some writers are putting up a fight, demanding more pay in exchange for scripting product plugs into their shows.Much of the hand-wringing about product placement is interesting considering that, in one sense, this is nothing new to broadcasting. Jack Benny hawked Lucky Strikes and Jell-O, Bob Hope pitched Pepsodent and later Texaco, and Abbott & Costello shilled for Camel cigarettes. Most of this was done within the context of the show itself, not during wholly separate commercial entities. Although the star wasn't always making the pitch, the plug would often be woven directly into the fabric of the show.
Business models changed, and TV switched to the spot commercial model. Now the tides have shifted again, and many on the creative end of the business are pissed off.
From the article: "Some writers are so angered by the process of appeasing advertisers..." "'Even if it's for a minute, product placement is intrusive to the story'..."
But TV shows have always felt advertiser pressure restricting creative freedom (although perhaps not at the writer level). And interrupting the narrative for commercial breaks is just as intrusive.
The "creative integrity" argument is not a winner in this discussion. But the disclosure issue may well be:
The FCC, which requires all broadcasters to disclose their sponsors, could be brought in to do a federal investigation on TV product placements.I've often wondered how TV programs can get away with covert product placement, given these disclosure rules.
Frankly, the best way to do sponsor placement is not clandestinely--like in many early radio shows, have the host (or cast member) do the pitch directly in a context that is neither within the storyline nor fully separate from it (e.g., on set but "breaking the fourth wall"). Everybody knows it's commercial matter yet tune-out would likely be minimal.
Monday, December 12, 2005
|So I arrive at work today, barely in time to get on the air and do my usual Monday morning CD review. Traffic was bad apparently due to a bit of a snowfall we had yesterday (as anyone watching the 2nd half of Pittsburgh game would have seen), although it wasn't really poor driving conditions.|
After my CD review, I slip out to the corner convenience store to get a cup of coffee and, while returning, see a police car whizz by with lights and sirens blazing. Immediately behind is an unmarked van with police lights and ladders attached to the roof. A half a block behind is a 2nd unmarked van with a light on top, Streets of San Francisco-style.
A co-worker saw them from behind and saw helmeted police packed into the back of the van. It was the SWAT team.
A state trooper was murdered just west of the city early this morning, and they had tracked a suspect to the South Side--where my radio station is located. Further dispatches revealed that the police had cordoned off an area a mere five blocks away from work.
Fortunately, the suspect gave up peacefully and was taken into custody.
I don't think I've ever seen a SWAT team in action before--or at least on their way to action. That is, not counting all those episodes of S.W.A.T. I watched as a lad.
Saturday, December 10, 2005
|The Grammy awards are a way for the music industry to recognize truly talented bands or individuals--recognition ostensibly from one's peers. Of course, winning a Grammy (or even being nominated) leads to a nice bump in sales, so naturally some people have found ways to try to manipulate the Grammy award process.|
To vote in the Grammys one needs to have recording credits to one's name. The Grammy website explains how one attains voting status for the Grammys:
You need to have creative or technical credit on a minimum of six tracks (or their equivalent) in at least one voting discipline and the album must have been commercially released in the United States. Qualifying tracks can be on one album or a combination of albums.But as an emailer to music industry gadly Bob Lefsetz's blog points out:
It turns out you only need a few recording credits to be eligible to vote. Sure, some A&R folks and executives at the labels had enough credits to be eligible, but that's certainly not enough to sway the process.... So what did these companies (and pretty much every company) do? They pulled their employees from the office for a few hours and recorded bogus holiday CD's. I present to you the Zomba Choir.Zomba was a distributor and label which was acquired by BMG in 2002, and yes, this "Zomba Choir" released a six-song EP in 2002, allegedly with the sole intention of giving label employees enough credits on a record to allow them to vote for Grammy awards--as noted above, a 6-song EP is the bare minimum to give all participants voting status (the rules have apparently since been changed to prevent label employees from getting a vote).
I know at least 3 of the "singers" in the Zomba Choir (and went to college with one), and I can attest that these people are not professional singers by any means.
This EP, Miracle on West 25th Street (named after Zomba's New York location), features one pianist (Bennett Paster) and one vocalist (Critter Jones)--presumably the musical "cred" for the project--and 62 "choir" members--presumably the Zomba employees singing merely to achieve voting status. Clearly it's not on behalf of their artistic vision, since the EP is horrible--or, at least, so utterly mundane as to wonder why this is on anything but a mom & pop label.
Well, now we know why.
For posterity's sake, here's the list of "Zomba Choir" singers: Blayne Erskine, Bob Anderson, Brian Gately, Camille Evans, Cara Bridgins, Carlos Vega, Chris Ward, Christian Alcantara, Craig Davis, Damon Williams, Denise Trorman, Diane Covucci, Dmitri Williams, Donna Ferrentino, Dwayne Adams, E. Yvonne Chase, Eric Barlow, Gerry Kuster, Grace Harry, Jackie Murphy, James Maynes, Jayne Cohen, Jean Kelly, Jeff Dodes, Jeff Grant, Jenny Colwell, Jesus Maldonado, Jim Backus, Joe Riccitelli, John Strazza, Joseph Burney, Julie Covell, Kim Barrajanos, Kim Kaiman, Lorraine Caruso, Lynda Simmons, Mark Flaherty, Max Siegel, Michael Galbe, Michael Tedesco, Michelle Borek, Michelle Lukianovich, Monica Allen, Monica Coates, Nick Gamma, Niki Benjamin, Olivia Echeverria, Pat Barry, Peggy Apostolides, Rebecca Bercy, Rhoda Cantave, Rob Ceccarini, Sedrick Crawley, Stephanie Tudor, Steve Savoca, Susan Collins, Tara Griggs-Magee, Teresa Brooks, Toi Green, Tom Cunningham, Tricia Carrabba, Wanda Coriano.
For shame, people.
|Comedian Richard Pryor dies at 65:|
Richard Pryor, whose blunt, blue and brilliant comedic confrontations confidently tackled what many stand-up comic's before him deemed too shocking—and thus off-limits—to broach, died this morning. He was 65 .Pryor suffered a heart attack at his home in San Fernando Valley section of Los Angeles early Saturday morning. He was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital.Although Stir Crazy was among the first R-rated movies I went to see, it was the genius of Pryor and co-star Gene Wilder who were the movie's selling point (rather than the rather brief strip-club topless scene which was the ostensible focus for 13 year-old adolescent viewers like me. Unfortunately, it was really the start of the end for Pryor's movie career. Soon he would be reduced to embarrassing dreck like The Toy and Critical Condition.
But it was the standup that really was the bedrock of Pryor's career. Get a hold of any of his standup recordings as possible in tribute to his talent.
|School Officials Propose Ban of Whole Milk:|
Cartons of whole milk would be considered junk food, but baked Cheetos would not, under new rules proposed Friday by Illinois education officials.Meanwhile...
Dr. Melik: This morning for breakfast, he requested something called wheat germ, organic honey, and tiger's milk.
Dr. Aragon: Oh, yes, those were the charmed substances that some years ago were thought to contain life preserving properties.
Dr. Melik: You mean there was no deep fat? No steak or cream pies or hot fudge?
Dr. Aragon: Those were thought to be unhealthy. Precisely the opposite of what we now know to be true.
Dr. Melik: Incredible!
Wednesday, December 07, 2005
|I just got an email from Tom Maxwell, formerly of the Squirrel Nut Zippers, with kind words about my 1997 (or so) "Springfield mix" of the Zippers' tune "Hell" (in which I mixed a bunch of related Simpsons samples into the song). More info about that track can be found on my old website here.|
Maxwell has got a new project called Maxwell/Mosher (with Ken Mosher, another SNZ expat).
Tuesday, December 06, 2005
|The 25th anniversary of John Lennon's death is this Thursday. In December of 1980, I was in 8th grade and not yet much of a Beatles fan. When I got to school that day, I overheard someone mention that Jack Lemmon had died (no joke).|
In 1983, I started listening to Sgt. Pepper's and Magical Mystery Tour and became obsessed with The Beatles' music. In college, I was honored to become the host of the WICB's "Breakfast with The Beatles" for three years (and which is still on the air every Sunday today).
In the late '80s and early '90s, I would frequently go to the spontaneous gatherings at Central Park's Strawberry Fields memorial (across the street from the Dakota apartment building) on the anniversaries of Lennon's birth and death. People would stand or sit around in little clusters--often several people had guitars, and groups would be singing Lennon songs--and leaving notes, flowers, or candles on the tiled "IMAGINE" mosaic in the main walkway of Strawberry Fields which is the memorial's centerpiece.
I always preferred the October gatherings to the December ones. Although more people visit in December, it was always a bad vibe. Some people would break down while standing at the Imagine mosaic, and there would always be at least one person, off to the side and apart from the knots of people, who genuinely appeared off-balance. I was always afraid that some asshole lunatic would pay tribute to Chapman one of these cold December 8th evenings.
On Thursday, feel free to pull out whatever Lennon songs you have in your music collection. And, in case you want to hear music about Lennon, here are some suggestions:
Songs about John during his lifetime:
Sunday, December 04, 2005
|Not-so-Petty cash to rock bat mitzvah:|
History will forever record Elizabeth Brooks' bat mitzvah as "Mitzvahpalooza."Also particpiating were Don Henley, Joe Walsh, and Stevie Nicks--even Kenny G as the pre-dinner cocktail musical wallpaper.
|Firstly, okay, so the Steelers blew it, probably for the season. Bleah.|
Secondly, I popped in my DVD of The Return of the Pink Panther last night and began watching it. First of all, I had forgotten how long it took before Peter Sellers appears on screen--a good 15 minutes, after the expository scene setting up the Pink Panther diamond and the security measures protecting it, then the animated opening titles, and then the surprisingly lengthy heist sequence. Exlcuding the titles, it takes nearly to the end of the heist before there's even a trademark sight gag (a museum guard who repeatedly gets a door slammed in his face during a chase).
FINALLY, Clouseau appears (for the classic accordian player with "minkey" during a bank robbery scene) almost 15% into the less-than-two-hour-hour movie. Gosh, I had almost forgotten what movies were like when people still had attnetion spans!
And the scene in which Clouseau first examines the heist location has more gags packed into it than some entire comedies. Beginning--no joke--one second into it and running throughout the almost exactly 4-minute scene, this scene is an almost perfect blueprint for broad comedy.
This is how it should be done, folks.
NOTE: I see on IMdB that there's yet another attempt of a post-Sellers Pink Panther film coming. Unlike the one with the hopeless Ted Wass and the horrid try with a valiant Roberto Benigni, however, this movie will have Steve Martin (who also co-wrote). So there just barely a shot. And it's a prequel. The Pink Panther is scheduled for release on Feb. 10, 2006.
Friday, December 02, 2005
|Podcast Chaos Be Gone:|
Podzinger and blinkx scour audio content for keywords by translating the audio into text and creating an index for quick searching. It's a significant step above traditional search engines that identify only keywords in a podcast's metadata, such as the headline and introductory notes describing the audio file's general content.One of these services uses speech recognition technology designed for intelligence analysts "translate and scour foreign television broadcasts and other media for topics and speakers of interest." Nifty!
Thursday, December 01, 2005
"I deplore it as a consumer; I admire it as a marketing professional."Sorry, dude. If you take a crap on the floor, you can't turn around and chide someone else for floor-crapping.
Physician, heal thyself.