By Brian D. Johnson - Friday, July 8, 2011 - 0 Comments
Horrible Bosses requires some getting used to. After the first few scenes, you come to accept that nothing onscreen will be believable. Not one plot twist, not one joke, not one line of dialogue. You settle into the fact that you’re watching a farce. There are quite a few laughs, some clever bits of dialogue, and some fine acting. But despite the highly credible performances, the jokes all sound written. Sure, they made me laugh, but it was the kind of laughter that got dragged out of me, with some resistance. The movie is less than the sum of its gags. Which is too bad, because I wanted to like it more. The three male leads—Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis and Charlie Day—are all good actors you’re happy to spend time with. The ensemble has a Hangover vibe, without the charisma of a Bradley Cooper. All three men are character actors, each playing a different breed of the Likable Loser. They’re the Three Stooges 2.0, a trio of emasculated idiots who spend the movie trying to grow a pair. These three buddies who have all have bosses from hell—a corporate psychopath (Kevin Spacey) who takes sadistic pleasure in treating his top employee like a slave, a coked-out sleazeball (Colin Farrell) who’s driving his father’s firm into the ground, and a foul-mouthed dentist (Jennifer Aniston) who’s sexually harassing her male hygienist. Commiserating, the three drinking buddies conspire to murder their respective tormenters. They use GPS to locate a rough bar where they hope to recruit a hit man. Instead they get a “a murder consultant” played by Jamie Foxx. He suggests they kill each others’ employers, as in Strangers on a Train, and a plot is born. Continue…
By Brian D. Johnson - Friday, July 8, 2011 at 11:05 AM - 6 Comments
A pair of backstage documentaries penetrate O’Brien’s green room and the New York Times newsroom
“Inside” is a word cherished by the media. It holds the promise of being taken behind the velvet curtain and ushered into a secret world—a celebrity life, a political campaign or a war. Now two compelling backstage documentaries take us inside the media itself: Page One: Inside the New York Times explores the embattled newsroom of America’s most august newspaper, while Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop tracks an angst-ridden comedy tour by a defrocked talk show host. Both are tales of old school underdogs struggling to reinvent themselves in a media landscape where they’ve become an endangered species.
Page One is the more complex and ambitious picture. Director Andrew Rossi spent 14 months shooting in the newsroom of the Grey Lady (whose walls are now lipstick red), “embedded” at the paper’s media desk. The result is a kind of meta-documentary: it tells the story of the Times fighting to survive the social media revolution through the prism of the paper’s own coverage of it. The narrative covers an epic sweep of events, from dire predictions in 2009 that the Times could go bankrupt to its unholy alliance with WikiLeaks and the dawn of the iPad—two game-changing events that promised to render old media obsolete, yet ended up creating rich new opportunities for the newspaper.
A documentary is only as good as its characters, and Page One enlivens its heavy agenda with a diverting ensemble of personalities, led by pugnacious Times media columnist David Carr—a former crack addict whose own survival is as miraculous as that of the paper itself. The film, in fact, originated when director Andrew Rossi interviewed Carr for a documentary he planned to do on Internet entrepreneurs. “The lightbulb went off in my head,” Rossi told Maclean’s. “I said to David, ‘What about doing a movie about you, looking over your shoulder as you report on disruptions in the media landscape?’ He said, ‘You’ll have to speak to my bosses’—assuming that would lead to a big fat no.” But after months of discussions, Bill Keller, then editor of the Times, gave Rossi unprecedented access.
By Colby Cosh - Thursday, December 9, 2010 at 2:40 PM - 0 Comments
Conan vs. Leno
The Conan O’Brien-Jay Leno feud began in earnest on Jan. 7, with NBC’s announcement that it intended to give Leno an 11:35 p.m. show and move O’Brien’s Tonight Show to 12:05 a.m. The world gaped at what followed: O’Brien’s public rejection of the deal, his prolonged Viking-funeral farewell from Tonight, the tag-team mockery of Leno by late-night rivals Letterman and Kimmel, O’Brien’s exile from TV, his return, and, inevitably, a book (Bill Carter’s The War for Late Night) about the whole fracas.
Steve Jobs vs. Jim Balsillie
Apple CEO Steve Jobs and Research in Motion co-CEO Jim Balsillie tussled over the future of mobile devices under the looming shadow of Google’s Android operating system. Jobs boasted that the iPhone was beating RIM’s BlackBerry and declared RIM’s PlayBook tablet “DOA.” Balsillie countered with a volley aimed at Apple’s most notorious weakness: “We know that while Apple’s attempt to control the ecosystem and maintain a closed platform may be good for Apple, developers want more options and customers want to fully access the overwhelming majority of websites that use Flash.”
By Jaime Weinman - Wednesday, November 17, 2010 at 5:47 PM - 6 Comments
I’ll have more to say later about Bill Carter’s The War For Late Night (aka Late Shift 2: The Shiftening), but one thing I wanted to remark on quickly is that although the book doesn’t do much to delve into the mysteries of why these people are the way they are — Carter got to talk to everybody, but the price for that is that he’s too close to provide a really hard-hitting portrayal of anybody — there are some bits that help clarify the mystery of why Jay Leno, a comedian whose talent no one doubts, has been such a creatively mediocre host. The book keeps repeating his mantra that what he wants to do is “tell jokes at 11:35 at night”; every time he talks about what he does, he says that his job is to “tell jokes.” Carter reminds us that Leno said, comparing himself and Letterman, “I’m a comedian, I’m not a talk-show host. I think Dave as a broadcaster is as good as there has ever been. I would say Dave is the better broadcaster and I am the better stand-up comedian.” That sounds about right. As I said, the people who disrespect Leno don’t deny that he was a good stand-up — even Bill Hicks’ vicious routine about Leno’s Tonight Show was premised on the idea that Leno used to be funny and chose to stop being funny.
The thing is, though, that there’s not a great deal of qualitative difference between Leno’s monologue and anybody else’s. Nearly all talk-show monologues fall into the same joke rhythms, same joke constructions. It’s the only way you can provide a large supply of new jokes every night. (A stand up comedian’s club act features many jokes that can be repeated several times, until they become tired or televised. A late-night joke is once and gone.) Conan O’Brien’s topical jokes are kind of lame, and the fact that he tosses them off as if he’s ashamed of them doesn’t make them any better. Letterman’s have marginally more edge, but are usually nothing very special. Carson, Cavett, the greats of the past, had lots of corny or cheesy monologue jokes. The only way to avoid the tired feel of the monologue is to replace it with something else, the way Craig Ferguson often chooses to talk about what’s personally on his mind — and he does this, as the book explains, because monologue jokes are so predictable in their rhythm. This is just the first monologue that came up in a YouTube search, but you could plug in different names in many of the jokes, and have them told by different comedians, and they’d be about the same. Carson got by with it more because his persona was more appealing than Leno’s, and he didn’t have the band playing loud music after every punchline. But the jokes themselves can never be much more than what they are: quick topical punchlines.
So Jay Leno’s monologue is not exactly lamer than his competitors, or at least the others are on a comparable level of lameness that cannot be distinguished by known science. But the topical stand-up jokes, the weakest part of almost any talk show, are the parts Leno cares the most about. It’s well-known, and mentioned in the book, that the monologue takes up most of his time. NBC knew he’d be willing to accept the offer of a half-hour at 11:35 because it would mean that he could continue doing his monologue. And of course during the Writers’ Guild strike he did whatever he could to make sure he would always have his topical stand-up routine. Once he sits down at the desk, the show is almost over for him. For most other hosts, sitting down is where the fun begins: depending on their particular strengths, it can lead to a good interview, or a funny new comedy bit, or just doing the famous Carson thumbs-up to a new stand-up comedian who pleased him.
In a way, Leno’s strength as a stand-up explains his weakness as a host. (Creative weakness, I emphasize again. He’s undeniably popular, even now, and one of the many mistakes NBC made was not realizing that his success on Tonight was more due to him than to any inherent strength the franchise still had — his audience and Conan’s audiences were very different, and there wasn’t a core group of viewers that would stick around and watch Tonight no matter who was in charge.) The only thing he really enjoys is standing in front of an audience and delivering jokes. Even if the jokes aren’t very good, and on any given night many of them won’t be, that’s the part he likes. O’Brien’s contempt for his monologue jokes is really no better than Leno’s smarmy style, but because he’s not a stand-up, he wants to get past those jokes as quickly as possible and get to something that could theoretically, surprise us. But Leno defines himself entirely as a stand-up comic, so he seems to define The Tonight Show as twenty minutes of stand-up followed by a bunch of filler. The part he lives to do is the part that is least likely to be good, in anyone’s hands.
By Jaime Weinman - Thursday, November 11, 2010 at 11:03 AM - 7 Comments
I’m not going to comment on Conan at any length for a while (I’ll probably come back to it in a few weeks, pick a random episode, and see what he’s doing differently, if anything), but I did want to say one thing about a bit last night, where O’Brien brought on SNL’s Will Forte playing TBS’s founder, Ted Turner. It’s normal for a talk show to have parodies of famous people. The thing about Forte’s Turner, though, is that it was absolutely nothing like Ted Turner at all. Instead it was a fantasy version of Turner, taking one or two things that are known about the guy (he’s rich, he’s Southern) and building a stock character, the macho rich Southern guy, out of that. It’s not like an SNL celebrity parody, where the usual m.o. is to find some trait the public associates with the famous person and then exaggerate it; Chevy Chase’s Gerald Ford was nothing like Gerald Ford, but he was based on the public perception of Ford as a clumsy guy. But Turner’s public persona is that of the liberal rich guy who wants to use his money to save the planet, and Forte played him as Yosemite Sam.
This is a deliberate choice, though; it’s not like O’Brien’s writers and Forte don’t know what Turner acts like. The trope™ being used here is a common one, particularly beloved of the Harvard Lampoon/Simpsons generation O’Brien belongs to: the parody that is intentionally inaccurate. One modern classic example is from The Simpsons after O’Brien left, when the showrunners (two other Harvard Lampoon guys, Bill Oakley and Josh Weinstein) decided to do an episode about George H.W. Bush moving to Springfield, but told the writer that they didn’t want it to be satire, they didn’t want it to be political, and they didn’t even want the portrayal of Bush to have that much to do with the real guy. Instead Bush was portrayed half as a generic crusty old guy and half as Mr. Wilson from Dennis the Menace. The joke was that there was a famous person being parodied and no actual parody was taking place — it’s a joke on our expectations as well as sort of a revolt against topical/satirical humour.
Update: As pointed out by two readers, the New York Times just had an article on another version of this concept. The Onion has been doing a series of parodies of Joe Biden that are not merely different from Biden’s public persona, but the exact opposite. Since Biden has been around for so long and his actual “foibles” are so well-known, there’s not that much to make fun of. But if you create a different character and call him “Joe Biden,” then you have an endless array of new Joe Biden jokes, as well as a running in-joke about the difference between the real guy and the parody. The article even quotes a Saturday Night Live writer to represent the traditional position, that a celebrity parody should actually have some connection to its subject, if only because the audience will either think a) That this is really bad satire or b) That the fantasy version of the celebrity is actually supposed to be real. But the Onion writers disagree; the head video writer tells the Times that people “kept trying to peg [Biden] as a buffoon. We just abandoned that and put him in silly uniforms and had him opening a crab shack.” When you abandon satire, you have more freedom to come up with jokes because you’re not tethered to reality.
So with the Forte version of Turner, and other celebrities who are inaccurately parodied by O’Brien’s writers, the joke is actually supposed to be that he’s playing a generic redneck billionaire instead of Ted Turner. I guess you could view it as a meta-joke about lazy comedy writing (as in, there are certain characteristics associated with rich Southern guys that we comedy writers use every time, whether they make sense or not), but mostly I think it’s just a way of avoiding politics and satire and the other stuff that some comedy writers aren’t that fond of — certainly O’Brien isn’t big on satire and topical humour, which is why his celebrity parodies often veer into fantasy. Instead you create a setup where we would normally expect some satire, and confound the expectations by just being silly.
By Jaime Weinman - Tuesday, November 9, 2010 at 12:38 AM - 5 Comments
Here I am watching the first episode of Conan, ready to write some thoughts on it. We’re getting it an hour later than in the States (after the abandonment of the Comedy Network’s ill-fated attempt to move Jon Stewart to 10), so I’ve had to avoid the internet to keep from reading spoilers: will there be guests? Will there be a couch? Will the audience applaud when Conan walks out? I want these things to surprise me.
It was inevitable that there would be some sort of “how we got here” pre-taped bit, but I actually was hoping he’d surprise us and just do a regular opening; the parodic fake-autobiographical opening to a show is so standard that even Jay Leno did it when he came back to “The Tonight Show.” Conan’s opening was much funnier than Leno’s (and even had the device of repeating previous lines we heard in the segment, which he must love since “Marge vs. the Monorail” used it on”The Simpsons”), but it seems to tell us what this show will be like: not a reinvention of the form, just a comfortably familiar talk show hopefully done well. It’s actually very important for the show to give that impression; despite the jokes about basic cable and the lower budget, they want to let us know that we’re not going to be going down a step from O’Brien’s big-network shows. The comfort of familiarity is the best thing they can give us.
That said, it’s fun to point out the slightly different things. The first one, up front, is the idea of having an episode title, an old-timey, lurid title (“Bye Bye Blackmail”) with a title card (complete with copyright logo) and Richter announcing it. I suspect we’ll be seeing more old-timey stuff or references to old TV and old talk shows; O’Brien loves this stuff, and on a network that mostly makes its money showing reruns, there may be less pressure to keep his material up to date.
Now, to the most important thing about a talk show — the set. It’s a regular talk-show set, of course. It’s already been remarked that it looks more like a Tonight Show set than his actual Tonight Show rig, which was more glossy and “modern.” This one looks smaller and simpler, but may offer more opportunity to move around; it looks like the design crew and the camera crew wants to create a feeling of intimacy and close contact with the studio audience, like O’Brien is interacting directly with them.
As we get into act two, with Richter settling down at the couch (an important improvement on Tonight was getting him Continue…
By Jaime Weinman - Tuesday, November 2, 2010 at 12:14 PM - 0 Comments
Here’s Conan O’Brien’s “Show Zero,” a preview of his new talk show cut down for the short attention spans of these kids today, with their internet and their Flash and their caffeinated iPads.
While Andy Richter’s Diet Coke pitch is another self-deprecating joke about product placement — where you appear to make fun of the advertising while still doing it — I’ve always gotten the impression that many comedians would really like to go back, for real, to the days when the show’s announcer would do the commercials himself. It’s sort of a fun old-timey thing that allowed the commercials to be integrated into the show (and, on radio especially, to be little comedy segments in themselves) instead of interrupting the show. And O’Brien, like many successful comedians, is nothing if not nostalgic for older eras of comedy.
By Jaime Weinman - Monday, April 12, 2010 at 1:22 PM - 17 Comments
Yes, you’ve probably heard. Yes, it’s true. No, I don’t think anyone saw it coming.
Just for the heck of it, I did a Google News search and found there wasn’t a single mention of TBS in connection with “Conan O’Brien” in the last few weeks. It was all “Fox” this, and “Fox” that. Only now are we learning that the Fox deal didn’t look like it was going to work (we’ll learn more about why, but “affiliates didn’t want to give up an extra hour” seems like the obvious explanation), and O’Brien entered into talks with TBS instead. Maybe if I go back farther I could find someone, somewhere, saying something about TBS looking for someone to bump George Lopez. (What is happening to Lopez, of course, is what NBC originally wanted to do to O’Brien: bump him to a later time slot. And Lopez was doing quite well for the network.) But it’s definitely a brilliant cover-up feat on the part of the host and the network; you wouldn’t think these things could be kept secret this long in the internet era, but they did it.
Update: The L.A. Times has more on why Fox didn’t happen. In short, the network heads wanted Conan, but the affiliates were a tougher sell. And Kim Masters has more from O’Brien’s terrifying super-agent Gavin Polone.
This is also, obviously, O’Brien making a decision about what kind of host he is and what kind of audience he’s looking for. By going to basic cable and doing a show four nights a week, he’s openly saying that he’s not the equivalent of Leno or Letterman, but of Stewart and Colbert: they’re the ones he’ll be competing with directly, and it’s their audience he’ll be trying to cut into. It’ll be interesting to see how his absurdist humour does against their political humour; though they have a lot in common, their approaches are different, and it’ll be a fun test to see which the audience prefers.
By Philippe Gohier - Thursday, April 1, 2010 at 9:00 AM - 0 Comments
The season’s golden girls, bad boys, and red-carpet rebels
Batman and Superman recently went toe to toe and settled the age-old debate over superhero supremacy. The battle, though, was recorded only in the chequebooks of wealthy collectors. Late last month, a copy of Action Comics No. 1, the first to feature Superman, was sold for a record US$1 million in a private sale in New York City. Three days later, the first comic featuring Batman hit the auction block in Dallas, and sold for US$1,075,500.
Lawmakers agree Aniston played a major role in getting California’s new paparazzi law approved. The law calls for fines of up to US$50,000 against media outlets that buy and publish “unlawfully obtained” photos. Aniston told legislators she’d had as many as 30 photographers charge her on the sidewalk and been followed through L.A. streets at night in SUVs. Politicians agreed: there’s something truly deranged about having that much of an interest in Jennifer Aniston.
After 55 years in show business, Canadian actor Christopher Plummer finally had a reason to show up at the Oscars this year when he was nominated for his role in The Last Station. Plummer didn’t win—the award went to Christoph Waltz for Inglourious Basterds—but one suspects he won’t mind having to find something else to do next Oscar night if he’s not nominated again. “It’s a flesh-peddling business,” he said, prior to the show. “And I don’t always like the feeling on the red carpet.”
By Jaime Weinman - Wednesday, March 31, 2010 at 3:00 PM - 0 Comments
What Kevin Smith, Helena Guergis, Star Wars fans and Conan O’Brien all have in common
Kevin Smith vs. Southwest
The U.S. airline booted the cult filmmaker off a flight because he was too fat to fit into only one seat. The plane’s employees told the Cop Out director his girth might ruin the experience for his seatmate and prevent “a timely exit from the aircraft.” Smith, a self-proclaimed “fatty,” used his Twitter feed to stir up fan outrage, saying Southwest messed with “the wrong sedentary processed-foods eater!” After hearing from angry Smith fans, airline representatives apologized to him. But they’d never have treated Alfred Hitchcock this way.
White Stripes vs. u.s. Air Force
Rock stars are always protesting when politicians use their songs, but only the White Stripes have the guts to take on the U.S. military. Band members Meg and Jack White decried the U.S. Air Force Reserve’s Super Bowl commercial, which used music eerily similar to their song Fell in Love With a Girl “to encourage recruitment during a war that we do not support.” The air force pulled the ad from its website. Who knew such a powerful fighting force could be defeated by two musicians from Detroit?
Marcia vs. Jan
A planned reunion of the kids from The Brady Bunch was canceled due to sibling rivalry: Maureen McCormick (Marcia) and Eve Plumb (Jan) “did not want to be on the same show.” Plumb is still apparently angry that McCormick’s memoir, Here’s the Story, boosted its sales by implying the two actresses had a brief lesbian relationship. She should bear in mind that the last time she refused to do a Brady Bunch reunion, she was replaced by another actor: Geri Reischl, now known as the “fake Jan.”
Conan vs. NBC
Conan O’Brien’s brief stint as host of The Tonight Show ended with NBC giving him a big cash payment to end his contract, and several episodes featuring expensive props charged to NBC. The catch was, O’Brien could not make disparaging remarks about the people who fired him. But NBC neglected to make such a deal with his sidekick, Andy Richter, who went on Live! With Regis and Kelly to blast NBC’s “short-sighted” planning. Maybe on Conan’s upcoming comedy tour, he’ll be contractually obligated to let Richter do all the talking.
Eric Massa vs. Rahm Emanuel
U.S. Democratic congressman Eric Massa, who resigned his seat for “health reasons” before it came to light he had groped male staffers, claimed he was “set up” by Obama’s ruthless chief of staff. Massa, who voted against Obama’s health care plan, said a naked Emanuel threatened him in the showers at the congressional gym. But when he was invited on Glenn Beck’s show, Massa changed his story, saying he was not forced out. Which can only mean that the Emanuel conspiracy, which has produced so many obsessive articles about Emanuel, has gotten to Massa.
SRC vs. Italians
Radio-Canada aired a comedy sketch in which a stereotypical Italian family, the Jambonis, appears on a game show. The Canadian Italian Business and Professional Association complained to the CRTC and demanded an apology for the “racist” sketch, where the family threatens to put a hit on the host and talk about how influential they are in the Quebec construction industry. CIBPA’s vice-president, Giuliano D’Andrea, argued there must be “limits to freedom of expression.” But don’t take that as a threat.
Helena Guergis vs. Charlottetown
After the federal Tory cabinet minister swore at Charlottetown airport security personnel and said they’d cause her to be “stuck in this s–thole,” an anonymous resident got revenge for the city by publicizing her outburst in a letter, forcing her to apologize. Guergis had been in the P.E.I. capital announcing a federal initiative she claimed would help more women and girls in P.E.I. “reach their full potential.” Which apparently means getting out of there as quickly as possible.
The Fans VS. George Lucas
At last, a movie about how much Star Wars fans hate the Star Wars creator for Ewoks, Jar Jar Binks and more. Alexandre Philippe’s The People vs. George Lucas interviews many disappointed fans, including a band that sings George Lucas Raped Our Childhood. But Philippe, himself a big fan of the original movies, says he still loves Lucas and wants him to “return to his early experimental roots.” You know, like movies about space princesses and robots.
By Jaime Weinman - Wednesday, March 17, 2010 at 1:00 AM - 11 Comments
Women are a big part of the audience, so why don’t hosts like Jay Leno hire any as writers?
Jay Leno is back on The Tonight Show, Conan O’Brien is gone, and fans are arguing over which version of the show is better. But no matter how often the host changes, one thing never seems to change: Leno currently has no women on his writing staff—when Sarah Palin performed a stand-up routine for him, her jokes were written by men—and neither did O’Brien during his Tonight Show tenure. In late-night comedy, shows can go years without a woman in the writers’ room, and things have gotten worse in recent years: David Letterman’s first head writer was a woman (Merrill Markoe), but he didn’t have any female writers last year. Markoe told Maclean’s that when she started in the business, “everyone made fun of ‘tokenism.’ Every show had its token one to two women.” In today’s late-night world, she’s starting to “look back at tokenism fondly as a time of enlightenment.”
Why don’t late-night shows hire women to write for them? The simplest reason is that most of the writers who apply for the job are men: “When I started the show with Dave in the early ’80s, very few women submitted work,” Markoe says. But even today, when there are more female stand-up comics and other women who Markoe describes as “very familiar with the general sensibility” of late-night comedy, things haven’t been any better. “Women are equal watchers of those shows,” fumes Melissa Silverstein, blogger and founder of womenandhollywood.com, “yet are somehow not thought of as capable of contributing behind the scenes.”
If hosts do hire a woman, it’s often because they knew her already. Craig Ferguson, who hosts The Late Late Show, has one female staff writer: his sister Lynn, a respected comedian in her own right. Markoe was romantically involved with Letterman at one point, and when Jimmy Kimmel broke up with Sarah Silverman, tabloids reported that he was dating his writer Molly McNearney. Without a prior relationship, it can take a long time for a woman to win the trust of the people who do the hiring; Jill Goodwin, who got a job last month as Letterman’s first female writer in years, was an assistant on the show for almost a decade. “People hire people they’re comfortable with,” says Silverstein, and in practice, it seems like hosts aren’t comfortable with women they haven’t met repeatedly.
By Jaime Weinman - Wednesday, February 3, 2010 at 11:40 AM - 8 Comments
Jay Leno and Conan O’Brien have become a proxy for two different viewpoints in a divided country
When Conan O’Brien hosted his final episode of The Tonight Show last Friday—“we have exactly one hour to steal every item in this studio,” he announced—it somehow seemed appropriate that he was losing the show to Jay Leno the same week the Democrats lost Ted Kennedy’s U.S. Senate seat to Republican Scott Brown: this latest late-night shakeup has inspired the kind of passion usually reserved for political movements. When NBC announced that it was giving the 11:35 p.m. time slot back to Leno (after angry affiliates forced the network to cancel his low-rated prime-time show), there was what veteran TV critic Diane Werts described to Maclean’s as “a frenzy.” NBC executive Jeff Zucker, who is often blamed for the decline of the network, told Charlie Rose that he received death threats over the move. Demonstrations were held across America to protest the reinstatement of Leno, including a rain-soaked rally outside the Tonight Show studio, where O’Brien and sidekick Andy Richter waved to the crowd like politicians departing office. When Leno got The Tonight Show in 1992 instead of David Letterman, it was just an entertaining showbiz story, but Leno and O’Brien have come to represent more than who gets to interview Tom Hanks. They may be a proxy for two different viewpoints in a divided country.
By macleans.ca - Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 9:10 AM - 0 Comments
A week in the life of Yulia Tymoshenko
A week in the life of Yulia Tymoshenko
The prime minister of Ukraine, Tymoshenko is set to face Viktor Yanukovych in second-round
voting for the country’s presidency, expected to be held next month. Tymoshenko was a leader of Ukraine’s Orange Revolution, the popular uprising against Yanukovych in the aftermath of the country’s 2004 presidential election. While Tymoshenko blamed Russian interference back then, she is now seen as being in favour of closer ties with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
A Canadian man who conspired to commit mass murder in the name of Islam has been handed the harshest punishment possible: life behind bars. The judge who delivered the sentence said it best: “It is difficult to put into words Zakaria Amara’s degree of responsibility. He was the leader and directing mind of a plot that would have resulted in the most horrific crime Canada has ever seen.” The confessed ringleader of the “Toronto 18”—a man obsessed with detonating truck bombs—was hoping for a 20-year term, which, with credit for time served, may have put him back on the streets by the end of the decade. But the life sentence ensures Amara will remain in prison until the day he dies, or the day the National Parole Board decides he is no longer a threat to fellow Canadians. We hope that’s a very, very long way off.
By Jaime Weinman - Friday, January 22, 2010 at 11:34 PM - 23 Comments
As I wait for the last Tonight Show With Conan O’Brien to begin, for some strange reason I have this song running through my head, sung (sort of) by Katharine Hepburn in Alan Jay Lerner’s musical about the life and career of Gabrielle Chanel. Who knows why?
Hoping too high
Fell down from the sky
And started to cry.
It’s the end
Of Coco, Coco,
Where is a friend
To trust and depend upon?
This isn’t really a live-blog, but here are some thoughts on the show as I watch it, when/if thoughts occur to me.
- I think one of the reasons the show has been so much fun in the last couple of weeks is that Conan gets to spend most of his time talking about himself. Leno is the kind of comedian who is least comfortable talking about himself and most comfortable talking about other people; even when he was good, he was an observational comic, meaning that (like his friend Jerry Seinfeld) he stands outside and looks at the follies of other people. Conan is often at his worst when making fun of other people or noting the mundane details of everyday living; he’s at his best making fun of himself, casting himself as the sheepish, tall red-haired weirdo who’s not comfortable in his own skin. The last two weeks have freed him up because he’s mostly free from his responsibility to be an all-knowing social observer.
- We now get a long musical montage of Conan Tonight Show moments, threatening to turn this into NBC’s second clip show in as many nights. Given a choice between this and the Jim/Pam musical montage, the Conan/Andy one made me tear up more.
- Steve Carell is the first of the surprise guests, to give Conan an “exit interview” (“did anything trigger your decision to leave?”). Accompanied as he is by applause from the audience and Conan shouting “Steve Carell!” as if he didn’t expect to see him, this is starting to remind me very strongly of one of those ’70s Variety specials.
- Here comes Tom Hanks. Not very likely he’ll revive his old line about “the big breakup talk,” appropriate though it would be in these circumstances, but one can always hope.
- I had not realized that Hanks was the guy who came up with the nickname “Coco.” But that’s something he should definitely be proud of.
- Coco calls for a commercial break after what seems like about two minutes’ worth of segment. I should check to see how long these shows actually are now compared to episodes from the past; late-night and daytime shows have always been shorter than prime time, but it’s obvious that they are even shorter now than they used to be. (And I’ll stop now lest this become an entire post about show timings.)
- I haven’t thought much about what makes somebody a reliably good talk show guest, but one thing that is common to both of tonight’s big guests, Hanks and Ferrell, is that they combine movie stardom with strong TV roots. They have the authority and glamour that comes with being movie stars; people who are primarily TV stars aren’t as valuable to talk shows (even when, as with Carell, they do a lot of movies in the off-season) because we see them on TV all the time. But at the same time they haven’t cut themselves off from the informality of TV performance, the way Will Smith has.
- Commercial break. A little poem that I’ve made up, mostly because I wanted to use this first rhyme:
NBC has overthrown an
Oddball red-haired host named Conan.
All because he was a sucker
Who believed the word of Zucker.
Conan hopes he’ll get some payback
If they flop by bringing Jay back.
- Neil Young is on. I hate to say this, but I can no longer see him on a talk show and not expect him to sing “Fresh Prince of Bel Air” or something like it. That really is the best recurring segment Jimmy Fallon has come up with so far.
- Conan’s big closing monologue now, the heartfelt part. Here’s the transcript (where possible I’ve added in some things he said that weren’t in the original transcript):
Before we end this rodeo, a few things need to be said. There has been a lot of speculation in the press about what I legally can and can’t say about NBC. To set the record straight, tonight I am allowed to say anything I want. And what I want to say is this: between my time at Saturday Night Live, The Late Night Show, and my brief run here on The Tonight Show, I have worked with NBC for over twenty years. Yes, we have our differences right now and yes, we’re going to go our separate ways. But this company has been my home for most of my adult life. I am enormously proud of the work we have done together, and I want to thank NBC for making it all possible.
Walking away from The Tonight Show is the hardest thing I have ever had to do. Making this choice has been enormously difficult. This is the best job in the world, I absolutely love doing it, and I have the best staff and crew in the history of the medium, and I will fight anyone who says I don’t. But despite this sense of loss, I really feel this should be a happy moment. Every comedian dreams of hosting The Tonight Show and, for seven months, I got to. I did it my way, with people I love, and I do not regret a second. I’ve had more good fortune than anyone I know and if our next gig is doing a show in a 7-11 parking lot, we’ll find a way to make it fun.
And finally, I have to say something to our fans. The massive outpouring of support and passion from so many people has been overwhelming. The rallies, the signs, all the goofy, outrageous creativity on the internet, and the fact that people have traveled long distances and camped out all night in the pouring rain to be in our audience, made a sad situation joyous and inspirational.
To all the people watching, I can never thank you enough for your kindness to me and I’ll think about it for the rest of my life. All I ask is one thing, and I’m asking this particularly of young people: please don’t be cynical. I hate cynicism, for the record, it’s my least favorite quality and it doesn’t lead anywhere. Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard and you’re kind, amazing things will happen.
I would have liked a little more Andy Richter participation in this episode and this farewell — but the guy knows how to write (or supervise the writing of) a good speech. Like his famous letter that kicked this whole controversy off, the speech manages to suggest animosity without expressing it: mentioning his long relationship with NBC, the better to call attention to how the network treated him, but without openly bashing the network.
- The show now closes out with Will Ferrell, guitar-playing Conan, and some special musical guests performing “Free Bird.” It’s a good ending, but a little perfunctory — intentionally so, I think, since this isn’t a real finale in the conventional sense. The overriding feeling is of something that’s been cut off before it says all it has to say, because that is almost certainly how O’Brien sees his Tonight Show. Maybe he’ll turn up somewhere else and finish saying what he was trying to say before he was rudely interrupted.
- And this has already been mentioned a lot, but as the show ends and Fallon begins, it’s now January 23. Johnny Carson died on January 23.
By Colby Cosh - Friday, January 22, 2010 at 7:03 AM - 9 Comments
Louis C.K., who may be the dean of American standup comedy (or perhaps a regent serving during the Madness of King Chappelle), offers a sage commentary on the Late Night Wars. His insight is unique and valuable because 1) it’s Louis C.K., for God’s sake; 2) it’s saturated with sincere respect for everybody involved; 3) he’s written for and with pretty much everybody, including Conan O’Brien and David Letterman; 4) it’s easy to forget because he’s bald and pudgy, but he’s got a generational perspective quite distinct, in important ways, from that of the principals. LCK is four years younger than the boyish Conan, and easily young enough to be Jay Leno’s kid. In some respects he is obviously speaking for all the major comic talents out there who haven’t yet had their own successful series.
By Jaime Weinman - Thursday, January 21, 2010 at 12:40 PM - 36 Comments
As Conan O’Brien signs his severance pact with NBC and prepares to leave — see Maureen Ryan for the latest good LenCon analysis — the Hollywood Reporter points us to this 2008 article where an “inside source” sort of predicted the whole thing (I’ve added line breaks for greater ease of reading):
NBC has committed to Conan for ‘The Tonight Show’ and will go through with it. It’s less of a financial decision, because the $40-45 million penalty payment is not super relevant. If they went to Jay and said, ‘we need you to split the payment,’ he’d do it. They’ve made a public commitment to Conan and don’t want to get beaten up over it.
NBC will do everything to try to keep Jay. Morning shows, afternoon shows, daytime shows – he won’t take any of those. They will try to keep Jay in the fold so if Conan fails on ‘The Tonight Show’ they will put Jay right back in there. Jeff Zucker will call Jay into his office with big wink and say, ‘if you say it publicly I’ll deny it, but if Conan fails, I want you back.’ That’s just the way NBC works. Back when Dave and Jay were fighting over ‘The Tonight Show,’ they tried to see if they could do the same thing. That’s what they’re going to try and do here with Jay and Conan, only they are more likely to pull it off this time.
So much for the “not getting beaten up” part, of course.
In my opinion, David Letterman has been the most entertaining person in this whole thing. His response to Leno’s “don’t blame Conan” comments, two nights ago, was particularly good. Letterman is bitter and cranky and his affable manner (intentionally) does not conceal his seething rage. All this can be a handicap when he’s trying to be lighthearted and funny, but it is perfectly suited for the current situation, in addition to the fact that he isn’t directly involved in this and can therefore say whatever he wants (unlike Conan). Letterman was the guy who really perfected the idea that a talk-show host could be a character on his own show, someone whose reactions, feelings and petty jealousies could be a part of each night’s storyline. Other people had done it, of course, but his shows are really not so much talk shows as the story of a guy hosting a talk show. And the reactions of the Letterman character, with his anger, his personal baggage, his passive-aggressive loathing of Leno, and his taunting response to Leno’s cheap shots (Leno can’t really think of anything to say about Letterman except to refer to the blackmail scandal over and over) has created some of his best character-comedy moments.
I think my favourite part of this speech is “Lonnie Donegan.”
And just for the hell of it, and to explain the obscure reference, here’s the actual Lonnie Donegan with one of his biggest hit recordings:
Comedy fans may remember Stan Freberg’s hilarious parody of Donegan’s endless pre-song narration.
By macleans.ca - Thursday, January 21, 2010 at 9:20 AM - 0 Comments
Newsmakers of the week
Just prorogue his subscription
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has called The Economist one of his favourite magazines. The feeling isn’t mutual. The British journal has laid an editorial beating on the PM under the headline “Harper goes prorogue.” It condemns the “naked self-interest” it sees behind suspending Parliament until March 3, after the Olympics. It called his cabinet “a bunch of Gerald Fords,” who apparently can’t walk and chew gum at the same time, or run the country and host the Olympics. The more likely reason for proroguing, the editors say, was to avoid scrutiny on issues including Canada’s policy on handing over Afghan detainees to local authorities when they risked torture. Canadians are complacent, but only if the “government is in good hands,” the editorial ends. “They may soon conclude that it isn’t.”
Expos 1, Blue Jays 0
Andre Dawson, a fan favourite of the late Montreal Expos, was finally voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, in his ninth year on the ballot. Not so lucky was former Toronto Blue Jay Roberto Alomar, who didn’t make the cut in his first year of eligibility, though few doubt that one of the best second baseman to ever play will make it to the Cooperstown, N.Y., shrine. As for Mark McGwire’s chances, fuggedaboutit. He finally admitted the obvious Monday, telling the Associated Press he was on steroids before, during and after breaking the home run record in 1998.
Going down to Luisana
Her name, Luisana Loreley Lopilato de la Torre, is almost as long as the Vancouver to Buenos Aires commute singer Michael Bublé, 34, has been making these past two years to see his lady love. This week he confirmed that he trekked down to Argentina with an engagement ring in November and proposed to the 22-year-old star of a popular South American soap opera. The two met at a record company party in Buenos Aires in late 2008. No date has been set for the wedding. Bublé’s fiancée played his imaginary love interest in his recent video for Haven’t Met You Yet, filmed in a Vancouver grocery store.
How about when hell freezes over?
Relations are frosty between Iceland’s president, Olafur Ragnar Grimsson, and Britain and the Netherlands after the head of the tiny, bankrupt nation vetoed a bill to repay the countries for bailing out creditors of the failed Icesave online bank. Icesave, which lacked adequate deposit insurance, failed in 2008. Britain and the Netherlands compensated depositors in their countries for $6 billion in losses and pressured Iceland for repayment. Compensation legislation was passed in Iceland’s parliament, but Grimsson refused to sign it, and instead called a referendum, which ends March 6. The vote will determine how—or if—Iceland will reimburse the bailout. So far public opinion is behind the president; the debt amounts to 40 per cent of Iceland’s GDP, about $18,000 a person.
Keanu’s not very excellent adventure
In the imagination of Karen Sala of Barrie, Ont., Toronto-born actor Keanu Reeves hangs out at the local No Frills grocery store, disguises himself as her ex-husband, and is the father of her four adult children. Last week, Judge Fred Graham dismissed her claim for $3 million a month in spousal support. He called the case “patently unbelievable,” and assessed her $15,000 in costs. Reeves, who says he never met Sala, submitted to a DNA test to prove he wasn’t the father. His lawyer said Reeves may not enforce the cost order against the cash-strapped Sala, though he spent some $85,000 in legal fees.
Two degrees, no separation
For most university students, life in a cramped residence room is a one-year transition from leaving home to a first apartment. Not so for Alkis Gerd’son, who has lived almost continuously in a University of Victoria residence since 1991. Gerd’son graduated more than 12 years ago with his second undergraduate degree and has since dabbled in a few non-credit courses. B.C.’s Supreme Court ruled the university can evict him. Gerd’son, who says he suffers from obsessive compulsive disorder and depression, has taken his case to the provincial human rights tribunal, claiming the university is unfair to the disabled.
What’s that you say, Mrs. Robinson?
Peter Robinson was Northern Ireland’s first minister and his wife, Iris, also an MP, was a religious and moral crusader who caused outrage in 2008 for saying homosexuality was as vile as child abuse. At the same time, it turns out, the first lady, now 60, was having an affair with 19-year-old Kirk McCambley, apparently after previously bedding his father, now dead. She also solicited money from property developers to help McCambley start a café. Iris has resigned her seat. Her husband, who temporarily stepped down from his post, is fighting to salvage his career. He has vowed to stay in the marriage.
Lean on us
The Chicopee ski hill in Kitchener, Ont., is short on elevation, but its skiers are big in heart. Last Thursday night the ski club paid a surprise visit to the family home of injured national team skier Kelly VanderBeek. She is there recovering from surgery for a knee injury that ended her hopes of competing in Whistler at the Olympics. A stunned VanderBeek hobbled to the door on crutches to be greeted by a crowd of 60, waving flags and singing O Canada, the song she’d hoped to hear from the podium. VanderBeek, who learned to ski at Chicopee, was moved to tears.
Life with Dad was a real blast
When your name is bin Laden, and your dad is Osama, it’s a safe bet your family life was complicated. Still, the clan has seen more than its share of drama lately. It emerged Osama’s daughter Imam had fled the family compound near Tehran where one bin Laden wife and several children have lived under house arrest since 9/11. She sought refuge in the Saudi Embassy, and the Saudis are in talks to repatriate her. Brother Omar has since revealed another sibling, Bakr, who’s 16, has left Iran. Omar, of course, wrote the recent Growing Up Bin Laden, a portrait of a man who is a better terrorist than a father. Osama beat his children, sacriﬁced their pets to poison-gas experiments, and asked his sons to volunteer for suicide missions. Omar wrote, “My father hated his enemies more than he loved his sons.”
Stimulus begins at home
Balancing a trillion-dollar deficit may be less challenging for Peter Orszag, director of the White House Ofﬁce of Management and Budget (OMB), than flow-charting his relationships. Orszag, 41, is such a man about the Beltway he inspired a fan site, Orszgasm.com (“putting the OMG back in the OMB”). As a divorced father of two, he’s squired such dates as Washington Post publisher Katharine Weymouth, and venture capitalist Claire Milonas. Milonas was pregnant with their daughter when he took up with ABC reporter Bianna Golodryga. Weeks after Milonas gave birth, he and Golodryga announced their engagement. As an MSNBC headline put it, it’s a “Budget baby mama drama.”
The price was right
Affable former TV game show host Bob Barker seems an unlikely foil for the uncompromising Canadian environmentalist Paul Watson, head of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, but the two vegetarians are bitter foes of the Japanese whaling industry. Last week a Sea Shepherd speedboat and a Japanese whaler collided during a confrontation off Antarctica. Steaming to the rescue of the sinking speedboat and its crew was the 1,200-ton Bob Barker, financed by its namesake. Watson had told Barker he could put the whalers out of business for $5 million. “I have the $5 million,” Barker replied, “so let’s get it on.”
Another Reagan hits the panic button
Los Angeles police wasted no time responding to a silent alarm at 1 a.m. at the home of Michael Reagan, a conservative commentator and the adopted son of the late president Ronald Reagan. They quickly surrounded the home and arrested Michael’s 31-year-old son Cameron, who berated the officers and attempted to leave. Police say Ronnie’s grandson had been drinking. He was later released on a $10,000 bond. Michael said the “misunderstanding” resulted when his son, unaware he had tripped the alarm, panicked at the presence of police. He has had previous run-ins with police.
A shot of Tequila
Reality TV star Tila Tequila has turned to Twitter in her grief over the death of her fiancée, hard-partying Johnson & Johnson heiress Casey Johnson. Tequila’s tweets soon degenerated into a slanging match with heiress Courtenay Semel, of the Yahoo! Semels. Semel has been romantically linked with both women and claimed the impending marriage was a fraud: “We’re talking about the biggest fame whore in L.A.,” a reference to Tequila. Meantime, yet another heiress, Nicky Hilton, and her socialite friend Bijou Phillips, seized two of Johnson’s dogs from a weeping Tequila. Zoey, an elderly, ill poodle, was to be put to sleep, and buried with his owner.
Careful what you wish for, Conan
In case you’re losing sleep over the state of NBC late night TV (and isn’t that the point of it?), here’s an update. Jay Leno’s prime-time show dies when NBC broadcasts the Vancouver Olympic Games next month. Leno moves to 11:35 p.m., bumping Conan O’Brien’s Tonight Show to 12:05 a.m. On Monday, O’Brien ripped NBC in his monologue and joked he’ll star in a TV movie “about a woman trapped in an abusive relationship with her network.” Then, on Tuesday, he announced he wouldn’t host the show in its new “next day” time slot. Meantime, he has an exit strategy of sorts, revealed in pre-taped comments aired for the 20th anniversary of The Simpsons, a show he once wrote for. If somebody (Fox, say?) would put him to pasture in Spain, and pay him $1 a year to write dialogue for the evil Mr. Burns, he said, “I would take that job.”
By Colby Cosh - Thursday, January 14, 2010 at 11:05 AM - 71 Comments
The Conan-Leno fight is clearly a generational one. I have yet to hear anyone in my online social network declare for “Team Leno”; I’m not sure that there is any such thing, or who would be part of it if there were. Consider this: Jay Leno was at one time one of the most respected standup comedians on Earth, and continues to perform live all over the continent and refine his live act. Conan O’Brien, a Harvard man who spent no more than ten seconds paying comic dues of any kind, has no traceable experience of standup. And yet every single standup comic I’ve heard or seen weigh in on the feud has backed Conan—even though he appears to be walking away from the Tonight Show, which has been the dominant economic force in their industry for more than 50 years. There’s something happening here, but what it is ain’t exactly clear.
At first I was tempted to wonder if blowback from the 2007-08 Writer’s Guild strike was playing a role here. Some comics were uncomfortable with Leno making a side deal to do struck work by writing his own monologues for the Tonight Show. But Leno was exonerated in WGA hearings, and besides, union hatred of blacklegs can’t account for the mass popular agitation against Leno. Moreover, from a strictly business standpoint, Conan started this whole fracas during his 2004 negotiations with NBC when he demanded that the countdown be started on Leno’s Tonight Show tenure. This game of musical chairs, with Conan, Leno, and Jimmy Fallon trying to squeeze together onto two bus seats, would never have existed if not for that maneouvre. Any such move against Johnny Carson would have been regarded as an appalling act of showbiz regicide.
In part, surely, this affray is being perceived as a replay of the Leno-Letterman war. (Wars, one notices, often come in pairs.) Back then, Leno’s cartoonish scheming coupled with his interruption of what was perceived as a natural monarchical succession, with Letterman as the rightful heir, to turn industry and popular sentiment against him. Over time, Leno proved that NBC had made the correct business decision. But like King John he couldn’t shake the bad reputation he had earned by stepping out of line. He made matters worse by giving the world a safe, sterile Tonight Show, without the slyness or the dimly anarchic aura of Carson’s version. Though, again, it must be to somebody’s taste. Leno seems a lot like Margaret Thatcher—you never heard any performer or intellectual in England say they didn’t loathe her with every cell of their body, and yet she kept on winning elections.
Letterman himself has seen a lot of his edge dulled in the meantime; I can’t be alone in having found his Late Night work seminal, but finding myself unable to watch him fawn over celebrities and extract cheap laughs from audiences now. Owing to events, however—9/11, the heart bypass, marriage, progeny, and even his philandering—he has somehow grown in American affections. Conan, who already loomed larger than Leno in the annals of American comedy before anybody thought of giving him a talk show, is certainly serving as a proxy or champion for Letterman in people’s imaginations. If the spirit of the revolt against Leno could be summed up in a single phrase, it might be “Not again!”
By Jaime Weinman - Thursday, January 7, 2010 at 4:09 PM - 27 Comments
Take this cum grano salis (that’s Latin for “don’t believe nothing until you get actual confirmation”), but TMZ is saying that Jay Leno’s 10 o’clock show will be placed on hiatus and that he will be put back in the 11:30 slot, presumably replacing Conan O’Brien. This follows a day of constant rumours that Leno would be gone at 10 o’clock, followed by a semi-denial where NBC admitted the affiliates were rebelling against his terrible lead-in to the 11 o’clock news, but reiterated their faith in Leno as a performer.
Update # 2, also from Carter: “NBC Plans Leno at 11:30, Conan at 12.” So basically NBC, roundly mocked for its attempt to have both Jay and Conan, will try to fix its failed experiment by… having both Jay and Conan, but at different times than before. Under this plan, Leno’s “new” 11:30 show would be half an hour, followed by an hour from Conan, followed by Fallon. This would force Carson Daly out of a job, and no one will care. The whole thing will undoubtedly be spun by NBC as some kind of bold experiment, shaking the very foundations of TV — and I will say this: if they had done this in the first place, it might actually have made sense. (Let Leno continue to do his monologue against Letterman, then let Conan do what he does. I personally would be happy not to have to decide between Conan and Stephen Colbert; I usually pick Colbert.) Now, of course, it doesn’t make sense; it just looks desperate, because it is.
TMZ does not have as strong a record with business gossip as they do with celebrity death (where they are now seen as very close to infallible; nobody’s dead until TMZ says so). I doubt they’d announce something like this without an actual source, but there are all kinds of reasons why it might turn out not to be true. These things can be trial balloons that someone puts out to test the reaction, or they can be rumours that are put out to make the actual news sound better by comparison… anyway, it’s not confirmed. Something is going to change with NBC’s talk show lineup, because it has to or their affiliates will kill them. It might not be this.
Still, this does give us license to speculate, and if it does turn out to be true, it will mean that Leno won by losing — by doing a show that under-performed, he has at least created the chance that he could get his old job back. If he’d been a success, he’d have no chance whatsoever of going back to The Tonight Show. Jay Leno may turn out to be the Max Bialystock of TV talk: he can advance his career more with a flop than he can with a hit, as long as the Little Old Ladies (replaced here by NBC Executives) believe in him.
I am not prepared to answer the question of whether Leno’s 10 o’clock show employed Roger De Bris as a consulting director.
By Jaime Weinman - Thursday, October 29, 2009 at 1:00 PM - 2 Comments
The Simpsons’ first warts-and-all history may be better thanks to the producers’ gag order
John Ortved says that the people quoted in his new book The Simpsons: An Uncensored, Unauthorized History are mostly those who “had stories to tell, or axes to grind,” or who are “too successful to care.” Fortunately, that’s a lot of people. Ortved, a Canadian journalist who wrote an oral history of The Simpsons for Vanity Fair in 2007, has now expanded that piece into the first book about behind-the-scenes conflicts at the world’s most successful animated show. (Unfortunately, it went to press too early to discuss Marge Simpson’s upcoming Playboy spread.) The book contains observations from Simpsons veterans like Conan O’Brien, Brad Bird (The Incredibles) and even one-time guest voice Tom Wolfe, but the list of people who wouldn’t talk to Ortved is just as impressive: he told Maclean’s that executive producer James L. Brooks asked “everybody who worked on the show not to speak to me.” He got no participation from Brooks, creator Matt Groening, most of the people who have run the show, or the cast (except for a few quotes from Hank Azaria, voice of Moe and Apu). The book offers many Simpsons anecdotes, but they’re from the point of view of people who have nothing to lose.
In some ways, this may be a more candid history of the show because we don’t hear from Brooks, Groening and their supporters. Ortved thinks Brooks “decided to cancel all co-operation when he found out I was asking questions about Sam Simon,” who ran The Simpsons originally and hired most of the staff. Many people feel that Simon, who left in 1993 after feuding with Brooks and Groening, is not given enough credit for shaping the franchise; Brian Roberts (now a director of such shows as Little Mosque on the Prairie) says in the book that Brooks “fell in love with the myth and the legend” that Groening was the sole creator. Ortved compares them to Walt Disney, who wanted us to think that “he created everything that was Disney.” Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, July 7, 2009 at 11:39 AM - 22 Comments
Paris’s speech caps a heartbreaking tribute: “Daddy has been the best father you could ever imagine.”
Welcome to live coverage of Michael Jackson’s memorial. I’m going to spend the next few hours watching CNN, writing about it and linking to whatever I find interesting. Should be a wholly uncomfortable afternoon. (See the photo gallery from the memorial here)
11:30pm. First up, live coverage of the private memorial at Forest Lawn cemetery as seen from a helicopter circling overhead. Very, very classy. Let’s distract ourselves. Maybe go buy a copy—or 12!—of our commemorative issue. Or go read Sasha Frere-Jones at the New Yorker. Or Tom Junod’s obit. Or ?uestlove’s twitter feed. Whatever you do just don’t watch television, ok? I’ll tell you when it’s mildly safe to look.
11:42pm. CNN’s Don Lemon is reviewing the program for the memorial ceremony. It’s like storytime in kindergarten. Only way sadder. Continue…
By John Intini - Monday, June 22, 2009 at 4:10 PM - 96 Comments
No? That’s because comics are giving the new Prez an easy ride.
Soon after Barack Obama’s victory last November, late-night TV host Jimmy Kimmel stopped by Legends, a barbershop in L.A. He was there for a trim but also to test out, “on behalf of the comedy community,” what type of jokes about the new President the almost all-black staff and clientele considered offensive. Cracks about Obama being a bad dancer are fine, they said. So are jabs at his big ears. But, Kimmel was told, Mrs. O’s “butt” is off-limits.
The skit was a joke (a pretty good one, actually), but it illustrated a real concern among some comedians and late-night scribes heading into the Obama era. Sure, comics would be able to count on Vice-President Joe Biden to regularly stuff his foot in his mouth, but Obama, unlike most of the commanders-in-chief who preceded him, wasn’t a walking punchline. Most of the late-night hosts have publicly complained about how little the President gives them to work with. Comedian Chris Rock compared Obama to the untouchable Brad Pitt. “Ooh, you’re young and virile and you’ve got a beautiful wife and kids,” Rock told CNN. “You know, what do you say?”
By Jaime Weinman - Tuesday, June 2, 2009 at 1:13 PM - 5 Comments
Will Jay Leno fans be jarred by Conan O’Brien’s outsider schtick?
Conan O’Brien is really, really obsessed with Los Angeles. Or that’s what you’d think after watching his first episode of The Tonight Show. It’s doubtful that most viewers care, or even know, whether a particular talk show is taped on one coast or another, but O’Brien never let us forget it. The opening sketch had him running across the country to get from New York to L.A.; one of his first jokes was about how he’s moved to “a state that’s bankrupt”; when the audience laughed at an L.A. Clippers joke, he commented that he’d learned how to get laughs “in this town.” Even his guest, Will Ferrell, engaged him in a conversation about things to do now that he’s relocated.
The point of all this L.A.-based humour is to portray O’Brien as a fish out of water, an ordinary guy getting used to a new city. The fact that he already lived in L.A. when he wrote for The Simpsons is inconvenient, and therefore never mentioned.
Continuing with the outsider theme, O’Brien presents himself as an upstart turned loose on a respectable showbiz franchise—and a lot of his bits last night were about him looking uncomfortable in stolid, old-fashioned Hollywood, or making mischief by fooling around with show-business institutions (including vandalizing the sacred Hollywood sign). He’s an overgrown kid who’s been given The Tonight Show to play with.
Unlike Jay Leno, who was a confident showbiz insider and a natural performer, O’Brien’s schtick has always been based on the fact that he’s not really a performer, and doesn’t seem comfortable with the conventions of show business. Last night, he laughed sheepishly at his own jokes, good and bad, and he did his trademark move of clasping his hands and bowing, as if debasing himself in front of everyone else. He allowed Ferrell to put him down frequently (though the best line of the night was Ferrell announcing that Liza Minnelli, who will likely beat him out for a Tony, “is a Communist.”)
For some viewers, it may be a jarring change from Leno. While O’Brien is known as the edgier of the two comics, his edginess comes from doing almost childish, infantile humour: he loves silly jokes, like dubbing stupid lines over a clip of Joe Biden, or hauling out old pop-culture icons like Fabio for cameos. Leno’s humour was aimed more at people who wanted to think of themselves as too grown-up for that kind of thing; while Leno’s jokes were not actually smart, they were meant to make the viewer feel smart. Leno fans could listen to his topical political jokes and feel, because they got the jokes, that they were well-informed people; then they’d watch the “Jaywalking” segments and feel smarter than the idiots who couldn’t answer Leno’s questions. That’s the biggest change between Leno and O’Brien: Leno did dumbed-down smart humour for older viewers, while O’Brien does smart stupid humour for younger hipsters. Whether the Tonight Show audience will accept these extra layers of irony is still an open question.
It seems likely that O’Brien will be on The Tonight Show for a while: last night’s ratings were good, NBC likes him, and he knows how to steer a show in the right direction (remember, his first talk show started disastrously). But it’s possible that he may never become an institution like Carson or even Leno, just because he doesn’t have—or want to have—their kind of authority. Those guys were showbiz kings who loved the phony glamour of Hollywood; O’Brien wanted us to know, last night, that he’s not an authority figure, but someone like us who happens to have stumbled into an important job. Of course he’s rich, powerful and loves his job, just like Leno. The difference is that O’Brien is hoping we won’t figure that out.
By Jaime Weinman - Tuesday, March 3, 2009 at 4:01 PM - 4 Comments
Jimmy Fallon’s aw-shucks, little-boy quality is an attempt to compensate for his many weaknesses
It’s probably too early to evaluate Jimmy Fallon as a late-night talk show host. His performance on the first night of Late Night With Jimmy Fallon was very weak: he looked nervous, filled the gap after every failed joke by repeating the joke that just bombed (oh, what I’d give to see comedians just go back to saying “two, three, four” in that situation), and seemed to be trying too hard to gain cool cred from his undeniably cool band, The Roots.
But, as Fallon, Lorne Michaels and everyone else involved with the show would no doubt want to remind us, Conan O’Brien wasn’t very good when he started as a host, and look at him now: he’s going to L.A. to be the guy who gets guests after Jay Leno turns them down. NBC will stick with Fallon, and he’ll get more comfortable and less flop-sweaty. I assume last night’s ratings will give him some confidence.
However, it’s not too early to talk about what kind of personality Fallon is trying to project. Ever since Letterman came along, many talk shows have really been meta-shows: Letterman, who had open contempt for the format and many of his guests, signaled to us that every episode was really about his own adventures as the host of a late-night talk show. Conan O’Brien was the same way: Late Night With Conan O’Brien was about a guy who had no business doing this show, or even wearing a suit, making a mockery of the stuffy late-night form. His take on The Tonight Show, with Andy Richter joining him as his announcer, will have a similar feel: Conan’s the upstart who’s out of place in Johnny Carson and Jay Leno’s world. Leno is the only late-night talk show host who acts like he’s completely comfortable in that role.
Fallon seems almost like he’s trying to do a more likable version of O’Brien’s fish-out-of-water shtick. His first episode abounded in awkward or embarrassing moments, and they can’t all have been unintentional: when he did his Robert DeNiro impression to DeNiro’s face, it was almost like one of his SNL sketches, except that he didn’t annoy us all by breaking up and laughing. He has an aw-shucks, little-boy quality that is very calculated; if Conan was the Harvard wise-ass let loose in late-night, then Fallon is trying to be the average guy who is uncomfortable in this setting because he’s just like us, nervous and star-struck.
Of course, that act is an attempt to compensate for his many weaknesses as a performer: his joke delivery is wooden, he’s inordinately pleased with himself, he doesn’t play off the studio audience very well, and on SNL he was mostly known for being too unprofessional to avoid breaking character during a scene. But Conan managed to turn his weaknesses into strengths by making jokes out of them. If Fallon can do the same, he may someday get to host a show at 10 p.m. to follow Jay’s inevitable takeover of NBC’s 9 o’clock hour.