Thursday, January 3, 2008

TV DONE RIGHT


Last night David Letterman didn't just return to the air after having made a completely union-friendly deal with the WGA, he gave the strikers a loaded 9 mm and told 'em to fire at will. It was wild fun.

In his usual guise as political idiot (never let that fool you), he said the basic reason for the strike was because the producers refused to pay for the writers' pencils. Which got a big laugh, but four cents actually translates to a sharpened pencil or two. He entered the stage among a chorus line phalanx of "striking" dancers he introduced as the Eugene V. Debs. He pointed out that his show was the only show featuring jokes by union writers, which got a huge round of applause. He took staged questions from the audience about the strike. He allowed Bill Sheft, Late Show strike captain, to interrupt a sketch that was about to show Dave igniting a pair of men's boxers by pointing out that the strike wasn't over, then delivering a rant against AMPTP that was searingly funny.

And for his Top Ten, a group of writers still on the picket line for other shows (including Nora Ephron and several writers for Colbert and Jon Stewart) delivered ten demands that ranged from sly jabs to a plaintive skinny pale guy's plea for "A date with a woman." You can read the list, watch Sheft's rant or hear Dave's monologue at the Late Show website. Yeah, Dave's grown out a beard (which he intends to shave on air), Hillary did a pre-recorded message, and Robin Williams was his usual off-the-charts funny (especially doing Walter Brennan having rough cowboy sex in Brokeback Mountain, you had to see it), but the glory of this episode was the unabashed support for the Writers Guild of America. You ROCK, David Letterman. Let's show him how much we appreciate it.


Also on the air last night was the first installment PBS's four part documentary series "Pioneers of Television". This one focused on the situation comedy, specifically on five key sitcoms that shaped the genre: I Love Lucy, The Honeymooners, Make Room for Daddy, The Andy Griffith Show and The Dick Van Dyke Show. The interviews were great (including a rare extended interview with Andy Griffith) and the details helped me understand exactly why these shows excelled, beyond the sentiment of them being from the "golden age". Catch it in re-run if you can. I'm looking forward to the future examinations of Late Night, Variety, and Game Shows.


And, making this a trifecta week for me, our local PBS station aired their American Masters' special on Cole Porter. It was fascinating to contrast his life story and career trajectory with that of George Gershwin, who was also recently featured in a PBS documentary. I was glad to see they treated his gayness openly, with frank interviews from straight friends and wonderful old queens alike. I was also intrigued by the details about his upper class upbringing, the role wealth played in his private life, and the details of his disability, all of which was news to me. It's clear that the previous film biographies of him are either off the mark or just flat-out lies. As usual, reality is a lot more interesting.

3 comments:

lizacowan said...

And I missed them all. Bleep!
I'll keep an eye out for reruns. Or maybe my local PBS didn't run it.

I just got cable after 12 years without TV, and I'm still figuring out how to manage it. I'll tell you, though, the commercials are driving me nuts.

Where's the golden age of advertising when we need it?

shadocat said...

What I saw of Letterman last night (I was working) was indeed top drawer. Finally--something new for me to watch w/o feeling guilty.

Wish I could've watched the Cole Porter program as well. Maggie, did you see "DeLovely"? I thought it was an entertaining, and thoughtful biography, and did a pretty good job of sticking to the truth, with some minor exceptions. And Kevin Kline was great in it; I believe his performance got him nominated for an Oscar.
After watching "DeLovely", I wanted to know more, so I read "Cole Porter: A Biography", by William McBrien, which I highly recommend. I too was moved by the story of his disability, I suppose because I was also disabled by an accident, and I could really identify with his grief over the loss of his pre-disabled life. Anyway, a good read for those who want to know more about CP.

Maggie Jochild said...

Shado, I didn't see DeLovely, though I meant to. Apparently the "official" version of Porter's life, "Night and Day", made while he was still alive was full of crap he just made up for the fun of it, including all this romantic stuff about him and his wife Linda. He was said to have laughed himself silly about pulling one over on people about it. The bio you mentioned sounds great, I'll have to check it out.

Liza, you're sure right about commercials. What the mute button is for. It's all cut-aways after 1.5 seconds, pop music (no original jingles any more), and movie-level production values combined with extremely slimy manipulation.