TV Howl’s Weekly MediaPost Roundup: 4/13-4/17

April 20, 2015
From 1949 to the present, my columns last week on MediaPost covered the TV industry from its origins to the present day.

From 1949 to the present, my columns last week on MediaPost covered the TV industry from its origins to the present day.

From “The Lone Ranger” to Halle Berry, catch up with all five of my MediaPost TV blogs from last week (April 13-17) with these links:

Monday, April 13: Make Room For Vintage TV: Old Shows Enjoying Unprecedented Revival

Tuesday, April 14: Is This The Most Trusted Man In TV News? In Our House He Is

Wednesday, April 15: Nature’ Takes You Where You Cannot Go: Inside ‘Animal Homes’

Thursday, April 16: Moone Boy’ Just Might Be The Best Sitcom In The Entire World

Friday, April 17: Networks Embrace Sci-Fi For Summer Series

Thank you for reading!

— Adam Buckman

Contact Adam Buckman: adambuckman14@gmail.com

This Week on MediaPost: Five Blogs 4/6-4/10

April 10, 2015
The constant variety of television: This week's topics ranged from ad men ("Mad Men") to transgender women ("New Girls on the Block").

The constant variety of television: This week’s topics ranged from ad men (“Mad Men”) to transgender women (“New Girls on the Block”).

Catch up with all five of my MediaPost TV blogs from this past week (April 6-10) with these links:

Monday, April 6: ‘Mad Men’ Poses Existential Question: Is that All There Is? My ‘Mad Men’ recap

Tuesday, April 7: ‘Game’ On! Epic Battle of ‘Thrones’ Resumes Sunday on HBO

Wednesday, April 8: Addicted to ‘Nurse Jackie': Beloved Edie Falco Series Starts Final Season

Thursday, April 9: End of the News Anchor Era? Say It Ain’t So!

Friday, April 10: Transgender Show ‘New Girls’ Is a Walk on the Mild Side

Thank you for reading!

— Adam Buckman

Contact Adam Buckman: adambuckman14@gmail.com

5 Easy Pieces: A Look Back at the Week That Was

April 3, 2015
The week in review (clockwise from upper left): "Weird Loners" on Fox, prance-dancers on Oxygen, Bieber roasted, "Wolf Hall" on PBS, Discovery struts its stuff.

The week in review: “Weird Loners” on Fox, prance-dancers on Oxygen, Bieber roasted, “Wolf Hall” on PBS, Discovery struts its stuff.

Catch up with all five of my MediaPost TV blogs from this past week (March 30-April 3) with these links:

Monday, March 30: Fox Looks To ‘Weird Loners’ To Lift Tuesday Comedy Ratings

Tuesday, March 31:  NBC Cable Nets Prance Into Upfront Season With New Shows

Wednesday, April 1: Discovery’s Upfront Strategy: Global Reach, ‘Personal’ Presentations

Thursday, April 2: Comedy Central Declares Social Media Triumph For Justin Bieber Roast

Friday, April 3: ‘Wolf’ At The Door: Henry VIII Miniseries Is Suspense-Filled ‘Masterpiece’

Thank you for reading!

– Adam Buckman

Contact Adam Buckman: adambuckman14@gmail.com

 

Week in Review: MediaPost Rundown 3/23-3/27

March 27, 2015
From "Mad Men" (top left) to "My 600-lb Life" (bottom), that was the week that was.

From “Mad Men” (top left) to “My 600-lb Life” (bottom), that was the week that was.

Catch up with all of my MediaPost TV blogs from this past week (March 23-27) with these links:

Monday, March 23: First Impressions: Inside the Upcoming Season Premiere of ‘Mad Men’

Tuesday, March 24: James Corden: How’d He Do In His Debut on ‘The Late Late Show’ on CBS? 

Wednesday, March 25: Famous People in Peril! Bill O’Reilly Tells Letterman that ‘Destroying’ Celebrities Is Popular ‘Sport’ in the U.S.

Thursday, March 26: FX’s ‘Louie,’ ‘The Comedians’ Are TV’s New Gold Standard Of Comedy

Friday, March 27: From Morbid Obesity To A Bearded Lady: The Weird World Of TLC

Thank you for reading!

— Adam Buckman

Contact Adam Buckman: adambuckman14@gmail.com

Week in Review: This Week’s MediaPost Rundown

March 20, 2015
ALL THIS MORE: Photos from this week's MediaPost columns -- links below.

ALL THIS AND MORE: Photos from this week’s MediaPost columns — links below.

In case you missed this week’s output of columns on MediaPost.com, here they are — just click on the headlines below:

This weeks’ topics:

Monday, March 16: Obama on ‘Kimmel': Entertainer In Chief Was A Regular Riot

Tuesday, March 17: ‘One Big Happy’ Review: ‘Happy’ Daze: New NBC Sitcom Is One Big Mess

Wednesday, March 18: ‘7 Little Johnstons': Reality Show About Seven Dwarfs Proves Anything Is Possible On TV

Thursday, March 19: David Letterman’s Farewell Is Fast Approaching, But Where’s The Excitement?

Friday, March 20: Changes Mulled At MSNBC As Audience Yawns, Then Disappears

Thank you for reading!

— Adam Buckman

Contact Adam Buckman: adambuckman14@gmail.com

From ‘beautiful downtown Encino': Gary Owens

February 14, 2015
Gary Owens 1934-2015 (Author's personal collection)

Gary Owens 1934-2015 (Author’s collection)

By ADAM BUCKMAN

NEW YORK, Feb. 14, 2015 — He signed his first note to me “Best Krelbs, Gary Owens.”

In later years, he introduced me to the Maytag repairman, sent me a vintage copy of Laugh-In magazine from his own personal stockpile, and invited me to Los Angeles to be his guest at one of the monthly get-togethers of Yarmy’s Army.

And yet, the fact was, I barely knew him.

But corresponding with the press, even a reporter located 3,000 miles away in New York, was how a certain generation of TV and radio personalities conducted their own publicity.  And so, I would receive these handwritten notes and occasional phone calls from Gary Owens in which he would update me on his career.

He would call and announce in his distinctive voice that it was Gary Owens calling from “beautiful downtown Encino.”  And he’d tell me what he was up to, including the latest news about Yarmy’s Army.

This was a loosely structured club whose members were mainly comedians and character actors whose faces, but not necessarily their names, were familiar to anyone who regularly watched the TV situation-comedies of the 1960s and 1970s.

It was named for an actor named Dick Yarmy, brother of Don Adams (born Donald Yarmy), who was stricken with cancer.  To cheer him up, his friends rallied to entertain him.  After he died, they continued to meet once a month, calling themselves Yarmy’s Army.  Gary Owens was proud to belong to this group, and he mentioned them often.

Today, many of those club members who I may have met if I had accepted his invitation (proffered sometime in the 1990s) are now gone, some long-gone.  And now, Gary’s gone too.  He died Thursday at age 80.

And now, I’m writing one of these remembrance blogs — again.  It’s not that I go around looking for opportunities to eulogize the dead. But due to what you might call “lifespan arithmetic,” a handful of personalities I first met when I was in my 20s and 30s are now in their 80s and now, well, you do the math.

The truth is, I formed relationships with very few such people over the years.  It is a very finite list.  But it just so happens, though, that Gary Owens was one of them (as was Joe Franklin, who died a few weeks ago and who I wrote about HERE).

I first made contact with Gary Owens in March 1983 because I had just read in the Washington Post that Owens, then a radio personality in Los Angeles, was spearheading a campaign to honor the Three Stooges with a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame.

The Three Stooges and Gary Owens: For me, this was a winning combination.

So, I decided to try and get him on the phone — probably the first time in my career that I attempted to reach some public personality on the phone in my capacity as a journalist covering the broadcasting business.  To be specific, I was covering radio as the editor of a small biweekly newsletter called RadioNews, based in Bethesda, Md.

To my amazement, Gary Owens — who I knew best as the comical announcer on “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In” — came to the phone after I called his L.A. station and simply asked to speak with him. He then told me of his campaign to honor the Stooges with a bronze sidewalk star (a “campaign” that became successful just a few months later) and explained that he’d known the Stooges personally (at least some of them).

If memory serves, he was particularly fond of Larry Fine (who died in 1975) — telling me how he’d often run into Larry shopping for groceries at a supermarket in Hollywood (I believe it was a Safeway) and my imagination blazed with a mental image of the “beautiful downtown Burbank” announcer from “Laugh-In” chatting amiably with wild-haired Larry Fine of the Three Stooges somewhere in a supermarket produce department.

Gary’s note with his nonsensical “Best Krelbs” sign-off accompanied a clipping from the Los Angeles Times reporting on the success of his Three Stooges campaign.  “Thanks for the help,” he wrote, which was very gracious of him to do since I had written just one tiny story on this subject for RadioNews, a newsletter whose circulation was a paltry 800 subscribers scattered around the country, which meant my tiny story had no bearing on the success or failure of his Three Stooges campaign.

"Best Krelbs, Gary Owens" -- July 7, 1983.

“Best Krelbs, Gary Owens” — July 7, 1983.

I came face to face with Gary Owens only once, at one of the broadcasting-industry conventions I used to cover in the 1980s. This one was the National Association of Broadcasters’ Radio ’87 Convention in Anaheim, Calif., and I ran into Gary in a hotel suite in the company of two of his friends — Jesse White, the actor best known as the original Maytag repairman and Jack Riley, a character actor best known for playing a neurotic patient of Dr. Bob Hartley on the old “Bob Newhart Show.”

(I wrote about this encounter, from which my memories of the Maytag repairman are most prominent, in my book “JERK: How I Wasted My Life Watching Television” excerpted below.)

Laugh-In magazine, November 1968 (Author's collection)

Laugh-In magazine, November 1968 (Author’s collection)

Gary’s notes to me, handwritten (actually, printed — he didn’t use cursive) on simple stationery, were cheerful missives.  “Well, finally, one of the vintage Laugh-in magazines!  Sorry it took so long!” he wrote in a note in January 1997 that came with this magazine that he had apparently promised me but I had completely forgotten about (nor ever really expected to receive).

“Hell has certainly broke loose weather-wise,” he continued, commenting on some severe winter weather that had apparently hit New York.  “In L.A., the kids build smog-men in the yard & put a carrot in for a nose,” he joked.

For some reason, he then segued into a story about Elvis Presley because Elvis’s long-time manager, Col. Tom Parker, had recently died.  “Sorry about Col. Tom Parker,” he wrote.  “First time I met him I was a kid in radio in New Orleans and was chatting with Elvis — suddenly about 20 girls stormed the mezzanine of the St. Charles Hotel and ripped Presley’s clothes & mine! (all set up by the Colonel!) Best — GO.”

I possess five notes from Gary Owens, a photo of Gary and me at the 1987 radio convention, the copy of Laugh-In magazine he gave me, and an autographed picture (the one above).

“Thought I’d drop you a line to let you know what’s happening,” he wrote to me in January 1999.

“After guesting on a recent ‘Sabrina the Teenage Witch,’ I’ve been doing a lot of on-camera goodies.  Just finished taping a comedy commercial for Roseanne’s talk show.  I’ll be playing myself on February 21st on Fox on ‘That ’70s Show.’  Also guesting on TBS — ‘Friday Night at the Drive-In,’ ‘Politically Incorrect’ on ABC-TV and ‘The American Comedy Awards’ on Fox.”

He ended this letter: “My national radio show continues strong – getting great ratings on WLUX in Nassau-Suffolk [Long Island] (we’re now in more than 150 cities.)

“Best wishes [not Best Krelbs],

Gary Owens”

And the same to you, Gary.

_____

Book excerpt, from “JERK: How I Wasted My Life Watching Television,” by Adam Buckman (all rights reserved)

From Chapter Two: A LICENSE TO PRINT MONEY

Part IV: A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS

Click on the pic to visit my Amazon book page.

Click on the pic to visit my Amazon book page.

The whole point of the television business, then as now, was to make money from advertising.  The programs, whether good or bad, were produced solely to create an environment for the commercials.

And the star of one of the most famous series of commercials in the history of television gave me a lesson in another part of show business – the money part.  He was a blustery character actor named Jesse White, who worked steadily in movies and TV shows from the 1940s to the 1990s, but became best known as the Maytag repairman, a role he played in TV commercials for 22 years.

I met him in September 1987 in Anaheim, Calif., in the company of a Los Angeles radio personality with whom I was faintly acquainted, Gary Owens, who years before had become famous as the “beautiful downtown Burbank” announcer on “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In.”   I ran into both of them in a hotel suite adjacent to the Anaheim Convention Center, where the National Association of Broadcasters’ annual radio convention was being held.

I was always flying out to cover trade shows in those years.  There were at least a half-dozen a year, maybe more.  The TV and radio industries loved to organize themselves into groups and hold conventions, mainly in warm climates – Anaheim and Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Dallas, New Orleans, Atlanta, San Antonio, Atlantic City.  There was even one meeting in Toledo, Ohio – a midsummer convention of an association representing TV stations from smaller cities.  All attendees, including journalists, were treated to a Toledo Mud Hens game and dinner at Tony Packo’s, a hot-dog and sausage joint made famous by a fictional character who hailed from Toledo, the cross-dressing Corporal Klinger played by Jamie Farr (also a Toledo native) on the TV show “M*A*S*H.”

I loved covering the trade shows.  You were expected to produce a couple of stories for the following week’s edition of Electronic Media, but I spent most of my time checking out the exhibition booths and hanging around the hotel bars.  On the exhibition floor, you’d get to see the new models of TV cameras put on display by the big electronics companies – the portable, shoulder-mounted video cameras used in newsgathering and the big stationary cameras used in television studios.  You’d also get to play around with them if you could effectively convince the salespeople manning the booths that you were interested in writing a story about their products (though I never actually did).  Among the innovations on display at every TV trade show in those years: High-definition TV, a good 10-15 years before the technology would be widely available to broadcasters or consumers.

In the bars, you’d prospect for stories by chatting up the convention attendees.  Among other things, I discovered that nearly everyone in the radio business has a radio voice, having invariably done on-air work earlier in their careers before moving up the ladder to station management.  You’d meet some executive then in his 50s or 60s who ran a station or group of stations and then learn some time later that once upon a time this guy had been a disc jockey known as Wild Willie, King of the Kilocycles.

In the evenings, I’d make the rounds of the hotel suites reserved by the big radio and TV companies in search of free food and drink.  These “hospitality suites” were set up to fete the many station managers, air personalities and journalists who’d come to the conventions from all over the country.

Gary Owens then had a syndicated radio show or two and he was stationed for the evening at the 1987 NAB radio convention – “NAB Radio ’87” – in his syndicator’s hospitality suite, where I found him with Jesse White and another friend who’d tagged along with them, Jack Riley, a dour comic actor who was best known for playing an irascible neurotic named Mr. Carlin on the old “Bob Newhart Show.”  I found myself in conversation with Jesse White, then 70, who told me some things about his career, focusing mainly on what apparently had been a career highlight – his supporting role in the 1950 film “Harvey,” starring Jimmy Stewart.

The conversation eventually turned to his long association with Maytag (a relationship which was then nearing its end).  In light of all the movies and TV shows in which he had acted (including the 1951 film version of “Death of a Salesman,” starring Fredric March), I asked him why he stayed in the Maytag repairman role for so many years.  He answered my question by suddenly pulling a rolled-up wad of one-, five-, 10- and 20-dollar bills out of his pocket.  He thrust out his hand in triumph, and in his palm lay a wad of money that was so thick he couldn’t close his fingers around it.  “This is why!” he said, grinning demonically.

# # #

Contact Adam Buckman: adambuckman14@gmail.com

Now at MediaPost.com: The nation’s best TV blog

February 4, 2015
BY ADAM BUCKMAN: All this and more -- only at MediaPost.com.

BY ADAM BUCKMAN: All this and more — only at MediaPost.com.

Looking for more to read?

Thank you for visiting TVHowl.com, but if you are wondering why the output here has been sporadic, wonder no more: I am writing everyday for Television News Daily / MediaPost.com as the site’s daily TV columnist.

Click HERE for immediate access to my MediaPost archives — just shy of 100 TV columns produced daily since last September on every TV-related subject under the sun, including the six shown in the pictures above and much, much more.

As always, I am grateful for your readership.

— Adam Buckman

“Always on, just like television.”

# # #

Contact Adam Buckman: adambuckman14@gmail.com

The Oracle of 42nd Street

January 26, 2015
Joe Franklin and me, April 1989, New York.

Joe Franklin and me, April 1989, New York.

JOE FRANKLIN 1926-2015

By ADAM BUCKMAN

Joe Franklin is gone, and so is his world.

I knew Joe for 25 years — meeting him for the first time in April 1989, when I spent two raucous days interviewing him and soaking up the carnival atmosphere of his office at 42nd Street and Broadway.

A year ago, he interviewed me for his Bloomberg Radio series, which he was still doing up until his death this past Saturday at age 88.

I appeared on Joe’s TV show on June 11, 1993, during his final week on the air — my first and only appearance on “The Joe Franklin Show.” My fellow guests were jazz critic Chip Deffaa (a New York Post colleague) and a doo-wop singing group — Kenny Vance and the Planotones.  They sang an a cappella version of “Life Is But a Dream” that was one of the most sublime performances of any kind that I have ever witnessed.

Whenever I was in the vicinity of Joe’s most recent office at 43rd Street and 8th Avenue (which wasn’t often), I used to love to stop in and see him, for he was almost always there.  For some reason, I found his presence there reassuring — a great constant in a changing world.

I last spoke to Joe about four weeks ago.  He called to finalize an arrangement for another interview, which now won’t be happening.  And he won’t be in his office either.

In my book, “JERK: How I Wasted My Life Watching Television,” I wrote about my first encounter with Joe Franklin and his world back in 1989.  Here it is, from Chapter Two (following a section about Walter Cronkite):

Click on the pic to visit my Amazon book page.

Click on the pic to visit my Amazon book page.

If I learned about broadcasting from watching Walter Cronkite, then Joe Franklin taught me about show business.

But it wasn’t the show business of dollars and cents.  It was the show business of aspiration, of ordinary people with high hopes and dubious talents, the people Joe called his wannabes and never-weres.

These were the people who crammed into a tiny office he occupied at 42nd Street and Broadway, in a red brick office building a century old, with great arched windows overlooking Times Square and corridors that echoed with the opening and closing of oak doors made heavy with brass hardware and frosted glass.  From behind the doors and down the scuffed marble hallways came the far-off tinkling of pianos and the sounds of voices raised in song.  This building, now long demolished, was the domain of music teachers, vocal coaches and talent agents – a real-life version of A.J. Liebling’s “Jollity Building” and Woody Allen’s “Broadway Danny Rose.”

And in 1989, this magical place was still there.  And Joe Franklin, a roly-poly little man with a perpetual grin, held court in an office busy with the comings-and-goings of his wannabes and never-weres.  Franklin, then 60 years-old (or so he insisted), had been the host of one TV talk show or another in New York City since this form of television show had been invented.

He even claimed to have invented it in 1951, though this claim, like so much of what Joe told me over the two days I spent in his office interviewing him in April 1989, could likely never be confirmed (or if it could be confirmed, I lacked the resources, ingenuity or energy required to confirm it).

Joe’s story never wavered.  A native of the Bronx, he drifted into the radio business at a young age, working first as a teen-aged go-fer for an AM station, WNEW, and then, eventually, becoming a writer for various radio personalities and their shows.  He claimed he was only 15 when he began writing intros to Kate Smith records for a show called “Kate Smith Sings” and also for an Eddie Cantor show on NBC called “Ask Eddie Cantor” – “sponsored by Phillip Morris,” he noted.

“I would make up the questions that people allegedly had written to [Cantor] that were mostly answerable by old records,” Joe said, but it was the phrase “sponsored by” that really captured my imagination, for here was a guy who’d been around so long that his brain still classified long-forgotten radio shows by the companies that sponsored them, reflecting a process for buying broadcast commercial time – “sponsorship” – that had largely been abandoned in the radio and TV businesses by the late 1950s.

In 1951, Joe claimed, the managers of a fledgling New York television station – WJZ-TV (now WABC) – were trying to figure out how to fill the daytime hours where they had no programs.  So they asked Joe, who was by then a radio personality, to come up with something, and he suggested a show in which he and a guest would sit in chairs and have a conversation.

Joe merrily told me this story, though heaven knows if it was true: “They said, ‘Joe, if we give you an hour a day, what would you do?’  So I said, ‘How about if I do a show of people talking nose to nose, eyeball to eyeball?’  They said, ‘Joe, you can’t give them talk.  The word is television, you have to give them vision’.”

Nearly 40 years later, Franklin was still on TV, though in 1989, he was on WWOR/Ch. 9.  By then, “The Joe Franklin Show” had been a middle-of-the-night staple of New York City life for so long that no one bothered anymore to try and refute Joe’s claims that he was the longest-running talk-show host in the history of television or that he had interviewed more than 150,000 people in his career.

In retrospect, the latter claim was easily refutable.  All you really had to do was a little simple arithmetic and you’d come up with a figure far lower, though still in the tens of thousands.  Moreover, it became crystal clear from the two days I spent in the presence of Joe Franklin that it was doubtful that he or anyone else had been conscientious enough to keep a running tally of his guests over the years.

In fact, no one seemed to keep a tally of anything associated with Joe Franklin, who would answer questions by producing staggering figures off the top of his head – data that was impossible for a single journalist to confirm, and Joe likely knew it.

His office was famous for its Collyer brothers-like clutter.  A small space, it was piled floor to ceiling with newspapers and magazines, movie posters and film cans, lobby cards, sheet music, books and records – 78s and 33s.  You’d look around and ask, Hey, Joe, how many records would you say you have in this office?  And he wouldn’t have an answer to such a specific question, so he’d come up with some other response you couldn’t prove.

About “half a million” stored all over town, he’d answer, along with 10,000 old movies and 200,000 copies of the Memphis newspapers from the day Elvis Presley died, and heaven knew what else.  “I have warehouses all over the city – six or seven,” he’d say, describing plans for books, videocassettes of the old films and reissues of the old records – a veritable empire of nostalgia that he seemed to hope would give him a way of thinning out his massive collections and earn him millions in the process, though it was doubtful any of these plans would ever come to fruition.

Amid piles so precarious they seemed in danger of toppling and crushing him to death, Joe sat in one of the few spaces available for sitting, taking phone calls from a black dial phone that rang constantly, and hosting a continual parade of colorful, threadbare visitors.  On the two days I spent there, these included an elderly man who said he was a marriage broker, and a tall, white-haired man wearing a tweed jacket who walked in carrying an old, weather-beaten tennis racket under one arm and, without saying hello, launched into a sonorous impersonation of Franklin Roosevelt.  This man, introduced to me only as “Ellsworth,” said he had inherited millions of dollars from a long-dead aunt, and then pridefully informed me that the racket he was holding once belonged to Rudy Vallee, with whom Ellsworth played tennis.  “This was Rudy’s personal tennis racket!” Ellsworth bellowed.  “I’ve got four of his rackets – I love ’em!”

Another man – short, wiry and gray-haired – who said he lived in a walkup apartment in one of the blocks in the West 40s just east of Times Square, pulled an old frosted light bulb out of his pocket and claimed to own hundreds more that he had collected from a Times Square dumpster.  They were lightbulbs from the original “zipper,” he said – the famed, lighted sign that once encircled One Times Square, the building at the foot of Times Square at 42nd Street (from which the ball drops on New Year’s Eve), around which the day’s news headlines once blazed and moved 24 hours a day.  He said he salvaged the bulbs from a dumpster late one night in the wee hours of the morning after the old zipper had been dismantled and its pieces discarded in preparation for its replacement by a more modern version.  Now, this man wanted to sell each bulb as a souvenir and had come to Joe Franklin’s office to seek advice, encouragement or a chance at publicity.

It’s entirely likely that he received advice and maybe even encouragement from Joe, but he probably received no publicity.  Many came and many called, but few were chosen to actually appear on “The Joe Franklin Show.”  The phone would ring and an assistant would answer and tell Joe who’s calling and Joe would invariably say something like, “Tell him I’ll give him good news in about a half an hour.”  Or Joe would answer the phone himself, speak a few words into the receiver and say, “Call back about 5 o’clock,” or, “I’m going to call you back in one hour – very important!” or, “Call me in 15 minutes, very important – I’ll have good news for you.”

I asked Joe if he ever remembered to call any of them back or ever had the good news he promised them.  Without hesitating, he answered candidly, “No, I tell everybody the same thing.

“We get maybe a thousand calls a week from people who want to be on TV, and I just don’t know how to say no [but] I don’t put them on [the show],” he said.  He then tried to explain to me that the callers needed to be told no for their own good, even though it seemed more for Joe’s good than theirs.

“Can I tell you something?” Joe asked me.  “Most of them have a need to be turned down, they have a need to be rejected.  If I put them on – like I’ll say, ‘What’s your qualification?  What’s your background?’  Do they want to talk about finance or romance or sex or therapy or nutrition?  I say, ‘What’s your qualification?’  They have none [and] if I would put them on, they wouldn’t respect me.  They’d say to themselves, ‘If Joe put me on his show, then he’s hit the pits, he’s hit the rockbottom!’  They have a need to be rejected, most of them.”

Searching in vain, in this pile or that, for a clipping or magazine cover he insisted on showing me, his patter continued.  “I was honored by the Meditation Society – millions of adherents!” he reported with a laugh, finding some long lost citation and briefly waving it in the air.

He talked of the talk show hosts who have come and gone since his career began (“400,” he estimated, another piece of data that suddenly arrived out of thin air) and the opportunities that come his way everyday.  “I can be on radio seven days a week, four hours a day,” he claimed.  “I have at any time six radio stations pursuing me …”

He tossed around the names of celebrities with the same abandon.  He met George M. Cohan and Jack Benny, he said, but gave no details.  He listed a handful of notables he interviewed years earlier on shows whose tapes were lost long ago – Elvis Presley, Ernest Hemingway, Salvador Dali, John Wayne, Ronald Reagan.

“I had Charlie Chaplin once on my radio show and I asked him, ‘Mr. Chaplin, what about all these people who sit frame-by-frame analyzing your movies and they find all the Freudian implications, all the shadings, like every time [the little tramp character] kicks the fat man’s behind, he’s supposed to be knocking the establishment and they go on and on … ?’  You know what?  He swore to me that he had nothing in mind when he made those movies except to make people laugh.”

The stories bubbled out of him, including one yarn about a trip he made to NBC Studios in Burbank, Calif., to appear on Tom Snyder’s “Tomorrow” show.  Joe said the appearance was set up to help promote a book Joe had written (he claims to have written dozens of books, a claim that is, for the most part, true).  According to Joe, he wound up on the Snyder show after Johnny Carson turned him down.

So, on the way to Snyder’s studio, Joe Franklin bumps into Johnny Carson in a hallway, or so said Joe.  “I wrote a book and they sent the book to Johnny Carson and [the publishing company publicist] got the memo: Johnny passed,” Joe said.  “So they sent it to Tom Snyder.  So I go out there – they sent me the airfare and everything – I go out to the studio in Burbank, and who do I meet in the hallway?  Johnny Carson.  He says, ‘Joe, what the hell are you doing here?’  I said, ‘I’m going on “The Tomorrow show”.’  ‘ “Tomorrow Show”?  Why not my show?’  ‘Johnny, we sent you the book, we got the word that you passed!’  He started screaming!  He never saw the book!  His face, his composure …  he started to shriek.  I ran away!”

Joe then told a tale of Tom Snyder, apparently the only memory of Snyder that Joe brought home to New York that was worth remembering.  “I’ll never forget what he said once during the intermission,” Joe said of Snyder.  “He yells out to the audience, you know, while they’re playing the commercial, he says, ‘What does a guy with a 14-inch cock have for breakfast?  Well, this morning I had Wheaties, two bananas … !’ ”  And Joe laughed and laughed at the memory of it all.

Joe Franklin seemed to have perfected the art of feigning a very convincing modesty while at the same time ceaselessly promoting himself and his place in broadcasting history, a lofty position he defined without hesitation or noticeable guile.  He’d suddenly adopt a serious expression on his face and say things like, “My program is the reason for living for many, many people,” or, “You want to know what they tell kids in TV school?  What their homework is if they wanna be a talk-show host?  Watch Joe Franklin, study his technique.  I am sort of the role model for talk-show hosts around the country.”

David Letterman was one of them, Joe said, crediting himself with talk-show innovations large and small.  “Whatever is Letterman-esque now was originally Franklin-esque,” he said.  “I used to do a thing called ‘Mayhem in the A.M.’ where I would have a spoon player or sword swallower or a dancing dentist or somebody who whistles with his mouth closed, and all kinds of oddball things, which is exactly what David does now.”

Hey, who knows?  TV through the years has rarely been uniquely innovative, except perhaps in the beginning, though most of the earliest experiments in television programming had their antecedents in radio and live theater.  The next big thing has always been based somewhat on the big thing or things that came before.  Maybe Joe Franklin was the first talk-show host to welcome a dancing dentist or a closed-mouth whistler, or maybe he wasn’t.  Who’s to say?  The actual truth of Joe’s claims didn’t matter.  What mattered was that he was still around to utter them, and he was still important enough to gather people around him who were willing to listen to him and believe him – in his case, a never-ending parade of threadbare wannabes and never-weres, and a young reporter who absorbed the show business tales of Joe Franklin faster than a dry sponge soaks up water.

But the most interesting thing he said to me, the thing that underlay everything else – all the patter, all the name-dropping, all the insincerity, all the casual boasting and cheerful promises of good news that he never intended to fulfill – was something he said when we talked about Billy Crystal, who had famously impersonated Joe on “Saturday Night Live” five years earlier.  “You’ve seen Billy Crystal doing me, right?” Joe asked me.  “Billy Crystal knows he’s doing a spoof of a spoof because I’m putting everybody on.  My whole life is a satire.”

Putting everybody on.  Joe Franklin had just dug straight to the core of what show business is:  An industry in which everyone, in one way or another, is putting everyone else on.  Outrageous claims, baseless boasts, the bald-faced taking of credit for innovations large and small – in many ways, this was the essence of the television business as I came to know it as a journalist.  Joe’s inadvertent definition of show business reminded me of a story a friend of mine once told me, a friend who at a very young age, in his early 20s, worked as an assistant to a Hollywood producer named Edgar Scherick.  This friend had typed up a letter on the producer’s letterhead and prepared it for the producer’s signature in the space following the word “Sincerely.”  When Scherick saw the word, he had my friend retype the letter and use a different sign-off.  Why?  Because, Scherick said, “ ‘Sincerely’ doesn’t sound sincere.”  It was another great metaphor for show business – a world where sincerity is insincere and everybody knows it.

[Excerpted from “JERK: How I Wasted My Life Watching Television” by Adam Buckman. Copyright Adam Buckman 2014 All Rights Reserved.]

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Contact Adam Buckman: adambuckman14@gmail.com

My year in review: Up and out of the demo at 55

December 26, 2014
Nam June Paik, "Li Tai Po" (1987) -- Robot sculpture made of television sets. Asia Society, New York, fall 2014.

Nam June Paik, “Li Tai Po” (1987) — Robot sculpture made of television sets. Asia Society, New York, fall 2014.

By ADAM BUCKMAN

NEW YORK, 12/26/14 — And now, the annual tradition that has become a yearly custom: My own personal year-in-review, 2014.

It was a year of living differently.  With no regular location for three-quarters of the year (other than this sporadic personal blog site) for the publication of my TV reportage and commentaries due to the dissolution in December 2013 of the now-sorely missed Xfinity TV Blog, I turned to free-lance writing and wound up published in a number of new places.

Bio.com took a column previewing the new half-season of “Mad Men” last spring.  Newsmax magazine published a feature story I wrote about the new wave in nostalgic TV networks (MeTV, Antenna TV and Cozi).

I did 12 stories for TVNewsCheck.com, and it felt good to be back writing for the new on-line version of the old television trade press where I got my start 30 years ago.  When writing these TVNewsCheck stories, on arcane TV-industry topics such as network-affiliate relations and audience measurement (better known as the Nielsen ratings), I was reminded of how much more difficult these stories are, compared to writing reviews of TV shows.

I had three stories accepted for publication in the largest-circulating magazine in the United States, AARP The Magazine (circ.: 22,274,096) — one story about the TV networks specializing in vintage TV shows (see Newsmax, above), one about TV spinoffs, and one about the generational shift in late-night TV stemming from Jay Leno leaving “The Tonight Show” last February and David Letterman preparing to retire next year.

AARP.  Can you believe it?  Well, we do get older every year.  And this year, I reached a particular milestone, and so did everybody else born in 1959 — we became 55, which moved us up and out of the demo.  I am referring to the 25-54 age group — one of the two most important demographic segments targeted by television networks and their advertisers (the other is 18-49s).

It’s not that the networks no longer count us (to them, eyeballs are eyeballs, whether they’re 25 or 85), but we don’t count for much where their bread and butter is concerned.

For me personally, aging out of the demo made me pause, however briefly, to wonder how I can continue covering an industry whose efforts (such as in the producing of programs) are so resolutely focused on younger people.  It quickly dawned on me that becoming 55 does not render me ineligible or unqualified to have an opinion on TV shows, no matter who they’re aimed at.

And so, I go on.  Shortly after turning 55 last September, I was offered an opportunity to once again write a daily TV column.  This morning (Dec. 26), I filed my 72nd column for the good people at MediaPost.com.

The year was not a fruitful one for celebrity interviews, though I was interviewed a handful of times — twice on TV, on Fox News Channel (“Cavuto,” Oct. 20, and “MediaBuzz,” Feb. 9 — thank you, Neil Cavuto and Howard Kurtz); 15 times on the radio, on WABC, WOR and WBBR in New York, WATR in Waterbury, Conn., KGO in San Francisco, Sirius XM in New York (thank you, Michael Smerconish); and on three podcasts — with the legendary Simon Applebaum of Brooklyn, N.Y. (“Tomorrow Will Be Televised”), the great Rick Morris of Cleveland (“The FDH Lounge”), and Kim Ward (“Chattin’ In Manhattan”).  My thanks to all of you.

Last winter, I finished writing my book titled “JERK: How I Wasted My Life Watching Television,” about what it’s been like to cover the TV business for 30 years.   After failing for several years to interest publishers and literary agents in this book, I self-published it on Amazon this year, thanks in part to an offer from Jon Weiman to design a cover for it.  Jon is a designer of book covers who grew up next door to me.

He designed a great cover and I believe I wrote a great book. However, I sold so few of them that I have cause to wonder why on earth I wrote the damn thing in the first place.

Perhaps some sort of answer to that question will come to me in 2015.

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Contact Adam Buckman: adambuckman14@gmail.com

Ebola news coverage is hot topic on ‘Cavuto’

October 22, 2014

TVHowl’s Adam Buckman appeared Monday (10/20/14) with Neil Cavuto on Fox Business News to assess the news media’s coverage of the Ebola outbreak.  Click on the pic to watch the segment:

102114_cavuto_buckman_0

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Contact Adam Buckman: adambuckman14@gmail.com

Visit my Amazon page today and read my book, “JERK: How I Wasted My Life Watching Television”!

Still howlin’ and blogging daily on MediaPost.com

October 15, 2014

BRINGING YOU THE CONSTANT VARIETY OF TELEVISION …

All this and more: Please click on the pictures to visit my growing archive of daily blog posts on MediaPost.com / Television News Daily, including recent columns on these topics, and more!

All this and more: Please click on any of the pictures above to visit my growing archive of daily blog posts on MediaPost.com / Television News Daily, including recent columns on these topics, and more!

Looking for something new to read on TVHowl.com?  Then my apologies if it seems as if my creative output here has stalled, but that’s only because I am now writing the daily TV blog for Television News Daily / MediaPost.com.

All are invited to visit my growing archive of MediaPost.com columns, covering all the topics pictured above — “The Walking Dead,” “Homeland,” “Ray Donovan,” “Gotham,” Joan Rivers, “Project Runway” and much more.

Visit my archive right HERE!

As always, thank you for visiting TVHowl.com.

— Adam Buckman

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Contact Adam Buckman: adambuckman14@gmail.com

Visit my Amazon page today and read my book, “JERK: How I Wasted My Life Watching Television”!

Now available in paperback, my book ‘JERK’

October 1, 2014
Click on the pic to order “JERK” today!

Click on the pic to order “JERK” today!

It’s here!

Welcome to “JERK: How I Wasted My Life Watching Television” by Adam Buckman, a journalist’s memoir of a 30-year career (so far) spent covering the television business.

Order “JERK” on Amazon here:

Why “JERK”? Because “The Idiot” was already taken. Plus, a disgruntled reader once scrawled the word “Jerk” over the photo that accompanied my newspaper column and then mailed it to me, so I figured, yeah, that’s as good a title as any.

Read the book and you will understand why “JERK” is a more or less suitable title for this thing. Or maybe you won’t. Whether you get it or not, “JERK” is supposed to be a personal history of the TV business from the mid-1980s to the present, the era in which I covered it as a journalist. Whether it succeeds as “personal” history or any other kind of history, I leave that to others to determine.

This memoir drops a lot of famous names — Howard Stern, Jerry Seinfeld, David Letterman, Jay Leno and a bunch of others — in order to get more people to read it. At the same time, though, I’m proud to say that I didn’t have to contrive any of these name-dropping yarns either; every word of them is true.

“JERK” is also a brutally honest critic’s critique of his own work and behavior — something most critics would never attempt.

Read “JERK” today!

– Adam Buckman

Contact Adam Buckman: adambuckman14@gmail.com

‘Appalling’ comments once made me bail on Joan

September 5, 2014
Joan Rivers in 2012.

Joan Rivers in 2012.

WITH RIVERS, YOU ACCEPTED THE GOOD WITH THE BAD

By ADAM BUCKMAN

NEW YORK, 9/5/14 — I once bailed on a radio interview with Joan Rivers because the comments I heard her making on the air while I awaited our interview were so appalling.

Her remarks had nothing do with me.  I was scheduled to do a phone interview with her from my desk at the New York Post.  As is customary for such things, I was placed on hold by a producer for a few minutes before Joan would get around to announcing me and then beginning our interview.  While I was on hold, I could hear Joan talking.

This was back in the 1990s, on an early evening talk show that Joan hosted on WOR-AM in New York, starting in 1997.  I was invited to come on the show to talk about some TV-related topic that was then in the news, but I have no idea today what the topic was.

How Rivers spoofed her own tragic story on ‘The Simpsons’

All I remember is, I was on hold at around 7:45 in the evening, listening in while Joan and someone else (possibly a producer or some other sort of sidekick) riffed on some other forgotten subject.  At some point, their free-wheeling exchange led to Joan vividly describing a scenario in which — sorry about this — bloody fetuses were being thrown off a cruise ship.

I was not then, nor now, particularly prudish about such things, but on that particular evening, I guess I just wasn’t in the mood.  Moreover, I was struck by the juxtaposition I was about to experience as Joan would shortly segue to me, following this graphic diatribe she had just issued.  So, not wishing to be the act that followed this particular material, I then did something that surprised even me, because I had never done this before (nor ever done it since):  I took the phone receiver from my ear, stared at it for a few seconds, and then gently hung up.

A few seconds later, the phone rang but I didn’t pick it up.  It was Joan’s producer, who left a voice-mail message mentioning something about our having been cut off, and then asking if I would please call back since our scheduled interview was seconds away.  Instead of calling back, I locked up my desk drawers and went home, leaving Joan and her producer to wonder what had happened to me.  I heard later that Joan was miffed, or at least mystified, by my sudden withdrawal, which left her having to fill airtime lasting about five minutes or so.

I remembered this incident the other day, while we all awaited the news on her condition, which unfortunately ended in her death yesterday.

I was vaguely acquainted with Joan Rivers because when one spends 30 years on the TV beat, you inevitably come into contact with her.  She was adept (if not obsessive) at maintaining a very visible public profile, which meant that, as a journalist, you could get her on the phone for an interview at the drop of a hat.  And since this cannot be said for many celebrities, Joan’s availability had the effect of endearing her to you, her occasional appalling comments on the radio notwithstanding.

Joan Rivers was the subject of the first bylined story I ever wrote about television — the first of more than 6,000.  It was in July 1983, and the reporter who would have ordinarily conducted this interview with Joan must have been on vacation because it was suddenly assigned to me.  I was then the radio reporter for this particular publication (the long defunct Broadcast Week).

The occasion was the announcement that day that Joan had signed a contract to be Johnny Carson’s sole guest host on the evenings he took off from “The Tonight Show” during the upcoming 1983-84 TV season.

So I found myself on the phone with Joan Rivers.   “How has your career benefited from television?” I asked her.

“It’s given me my whole career,” she answered.  “After my first appearance on ‘The Tonight Show’ in 1965, Johnny turned to me and said on the air, ‘You’re going to be a star.’  And suddenly I was.  I found myself booked into all the top spots in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles.  It literally changed my life.  Before that, nobody cared.”

Some time in the 1990s, I saw her perform for the first and only time.  She was touring with Don Rickles (billed as “Rivers and Rickles”) and we caught up with them on Long Island, at the Westbury Music Fair.  She opened for Rickles and put on a performance that had to be seen to be believed.  It was a theater-in-the-round and she worked that stage like a whirling dervish, always in motion, wearing a gown and teetering on high heels, and cradling a small dog in the crook of one elbow while holding a microphone in her other hand.

Her act was so electrifying that it was more like performance art than a stand-up act.  Afterwards, we went backstage to meet her and she was understandably tired — so much so that she seemed dazed, though she gamely chatted with us, along with other well-wishers who had been allowed into her dressing room.

I last interviewed Joan Rivers in 2010, about “Fashion Police,” her TV show on E!; and the documentary titled “A Piece of Work” that had come out that year about her life.  (Read the interview here: http://xfin.tv/1ptVliM.)

“Do you consider yourself particularly fashionable?” I asked her.

“No, I consider myself very smart,” she said.  “I do it all with jackets and jewelry.”

“What are your criteria?” I pressed on.  “What are you looking for when you pass judgment on what other people are wearing?”

You should wear the dress, the dress shouldn’t wear you,” she answered.

“Well, explain this to us: How does it get to the point where a celebrity shows up at an event [wearing something that is so inappropriate that they get ridiculed for it]?”

Answered Rivers: “Six gay friends said, ‘You look good!’ ”

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Contact Adam Buckman: adambuckman14@gmail.com

Visit my Amazon page today and read my book, “JERK: How I Wasted My Life Watching Television”!

The voice on the phone was Casey Kasem’s

June 16, 2014
Casey Kasem

Casey Kasem

By ADAM BUCKMAN

Two things impressed me about Casey Kasem: His manners and his wealth.

He was an easy-going interview, aided in no small part by the quality of his famous voice, which was one of the most soothing in the history of broadcasting.  It was no less easy to listen to on the phone, as he answered my questions in an interview in January 1989.

He was generous with his time, giving me more than an hour for that interview, which was conducted to mark the upcoming premiere of his new  countdown show, “Casey’s Top 40.”

It was the new show he’d put together with Westwood One, the radio company that picked him up after his long-time (and by-then former) employer ABC decided to drop him from the radio show he made famous, “American Top 40,” rather than work through an impasse in contract negotiations.

ABC decided to replace Casey Kasem with Shadoe Stevens, rather than pay Kasem some amount of money that ABC must have deemed ungodly.  One of my stories from back then about the contract negotiations with Westwood indicated that Casey’s new contract with Westwood would be worth $3 million a year, but if memory serves, Casey became a lot wealthier than that.

In fact, he was, for a time — in the era before Oprah, Leno, Letterman and Judge Judy (to mention some of the personalities who became the industry’s biggest money earners) — one of the highest-paid personalities in all of broadcasting, on par with Johnny Carson and, yes, Paul Harvey — the other ABC Radio personality who was once one of the top earners in the entire industry.

When I interviewed Casey in 1989, he was 56 and living with his wife Jean in a 3,000-square-foot penthouse in the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills.  I asked him how many cars he owned and he answered good-naturedly, “Two black Mercedes — a large one and a small one.”

I asked him who his best friends were and he listed Dick Clark, Sammy Davis Jr. and Martin Sheen, with whom Casey had joined in anti-nuclear protests and was twice arrested.

Among other things, I learned that the Rev. Jesse Jackson presided over Casey and Jean Kasem’s wedding in 1980 — and Casey campaigned for Jackson when Jackson ran for president in 1988.

I also learned that Casey Kasem — the most famous disc jockey in America — didn’t have time to listen to the radio.  “If I had more time, I might listen to more classical music,” he said.

Obituaries for Casey Kasem, who died over the weekend, repeatedly cited the “long distance dedications” as the most memorable and iconic features of his “Top 40″ countdown programs.  But Casey never mentioned the long-distance dedications in my interview with him (the first of two, possibly three interviews I conducted with him).

He seemed prouder of another feature he called the “teaser-bio,” the anecdotes and backstories about pop stars and their Top 40 hits that Casey used to recite on the show — always “teasing” an upcoming anecdote just before going to a commercial break.

“Turning right instead of left can change your whole life,” he told me in 1989 when he related the story of how he found a discarded copy of the 1962 edition of “Who’s Who in Pop Music” in a trash can at the Oakland radio station where he was then working in 1963.  He used what he read in the book to invent these “teaser-bios” — which, to him, were the feature that made “American Top 40,” and made his career.

“This is the famous I-found-my-future-in-a-trash-can story and it’s true, absolutely true,” he insisted.

One of the things about Casey that endeared him to me was his old-school habit of writing thank-you notes.  Very few celebrities, in my experience, do this — and the ones who do are the ones you remember.  I have two of them from Casey — typewritten on 7.25″ x 5″ notecards, bordered in dark blue and red, with the words “Casey Kasem” printed at the top.

“Dear Adam,” he wrote to me in February 1989 after my story ran in the broadcasting trade mag for which I was then working.  “I just wanted to send you my thanks for that great article about my work and other activities.  It’s an excellent summary of my career and concerns.  Keep up the fine work, and have a great year!

“Yours truly,

[signature]

“Casey Kasem

“P.S.: They’re quoting me on the classical music stations!”

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The e-mail address is: adambuckman14@gmail.com

Multi-talented Colbert is right man for the job

April 10, 2014
Stephen Colbert will replace David Letterman as host of CBS's "Late Show" next year.

Stephen Colbert will replace David Letterman as host of CBS’s “Late Show” next year.

By ADAM BUCKMAN

It takes more than just stand-up comedy talent to qualify as a late-night host these days.

That’s the lesson of the announcement today that Stephen Colbert has been anointed David Letterman’s successor as host of “Late Show” on CBS.  With Letterman announcing just last week his intention to retire next year, CBS moved quickly to sign Colbert to a five-year contract — representing an extraordinary amount of faith in Colbert’s potential for not only maintaining CBS’s position in the late-night competition at 11:35, but also improving it.

For that role, Colbert, 49, emerges as the best man for the job.  Why?  Because he is multi-talented, which is suddenly a requirement for hosting a late-night show — a trend driven mainly by Jimmy Fallon.

Colbert might not possess Fallon’s talent for mimicry and celebrity impressions, but Colbert is an accomplished professional in all the other aspects of show business — particularly singing, dancing and acting.  He’s a shrewd showman who writes best-selling books, created a highly profitable show (“The Colbert Report”) built around a fictional character he developed and plays personally, and seems to create excitement and draw crowds wherever he goes.

With his abundance of theatrical talent (he’s formally trained in all the basics, from Northwestern), Colbert is more than a match for the multifaceted Fallon where it now counts the most — in the production of comedy-performance bits so arresting that they stand up to multiple viewings on video and social-media Web sites in the hours and days after they air for the first time on TV.

This is where Colbert’s “Late Show” and Fallon’s “Tonight Show” will battle it out most.  As for the time period’s other competitor, “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” CBS’s hiring of Colbert gives Kimmel an opportunity to stand out from the others.  As Kimmel has long emphasized, he is more a “broadcaster” than a “comedian” — a recognition that he possesses none of  the basic performing skills of his competitors.  Still, his bits are wildly creative and they play well (and often better than Fallon’s) in the all-important video after-markets.

Two more things on this hiring of Colbert:

1) Some are concerned that Colbert won’t be able to make the transition from the “Stephen Colbert” character he plays on Comedy Central to the real Colbert.  That happens to be a non-issue.  He’ll do fine as the “real” guy behind the “Late Show” desk.

2) What about Conan? Thank you to all of the hundreds of you who visited TVHowl over the past week to read my post from a year ago suggesting that Conan O’Brien would be a great choice to replace Letterman when the time comes for Letterman to call it a day.  Alas — it is not to be.  The Conan story is an interesting one: There was a time when he really was the late-night heir-apparent — if not “The Tonight Show” (we all know what happened there) then the “Letterman” show.  Unfortunately, if this was still an ambition of Conan’s, to break into the network fray at 11:35 p.m., then this once-every-20-years generational shift in late-night TV seems to have passed him by.

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Contact Adam Buckman: adambuckman14@gmail.com

An aging generation mourns loss of Jay, Dave

April 4, 2014
END OF AN ERA: For millions of us, late-night television will always be represented by these two -- David Letterman and Jay Leno (inset) who battled it out for 20 years.  Photos: NBC, CBS

END OF AN ERA: For millions of us, late-night television will always be represented by these two — David Letterman and Jay Leno (inset) — who battled it out for 20 years. Photos: NBC, CBS

By ADAM BUCKMAN

What about us?

We are the ones who have lost our late-night TV.

We are the group for whom the Golden Age of late-night television is not necessarily represented by Johnny Carson (though we may have watched him in his final years).  And we are the ones who don’t feel much warmth for the new hyper-active generation of late-night hosts — the Jimmys and the rest of them.

We are the habitual watchers of late-night TV for whom the 20-year reign of David Letterman and Jay Leno will always represent the heart and soul of this most-intimate of TV time periods.  And now, that era — when, for the most part, there were only two stars in late-night who anybody cared about — is over.

The phrase “end of an era” is a cliche I usually try and avoid using, but when Letterman announced Thursday night that he’s packing it in, it felt sincerely like an era was coming to a close.

Previously:

The rights and wrongs of Fallon’s debut

Children’s hour: Fallon takes over ‘Tonight’

It’s an aspect of Letterman’s retirement announcement that’s being largely neglected in much of the commentary you might be reading today that analyzes the late-night landscape as Letterman prepares to leave: It’s the end of the Leno-Letterman era — an era as distinct and important to the history of television as the Carson era was in its time, and the current multi-splintered era of late-night television is now.

It was the era of “The Two.”  It began on  August 30, 1993 — the day David Letterman’s new “Late Show” debuted at 11:30 on CBS.  Jay Leno had already been hosting “The Tonight Show” on NBC since May 1992, when he took over for Carson.

From that August day in 1993 until Jan. 8, 2013 — the day ABC shifted “Jimmy Kimmel Live” to the 11:35 p.m. time period — Jay and Dave, for all intents and purposes, had the time period to themselves.  And for millions of us, toggling between the two of them between 11:35 p.m. and 12:35 a.m. while preparing to go to sleep became a nightly habit for the better part of 20 years.

And now, with Leno gone since February and Letterman set to say farewell next year, late-night television will officially pass into its new and present era — the one most of the commentators are writing about today: The era of the two Jimmys, Conan, Arsenio, Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Chelsea Handler and the rest.

The problem for me and for millions like me: The present era of late-night TV holds much less allure for us.  We can’t seem to warm to the relentless comedy capers of Fallon, Kimmel and the rest — as they strive more for views on YouTube than for ratings on their shows.  With this new generation of late-night hosts, the shows are more cacophonous, if not obnoxious.

Hey, I admit it: I’m 54, and the hijinks of younger people are less and less interesting or entertaining to me as I grow older.  To anyone who is not necessarily turned off by the current generation of late-night stars, I say: Enjoy them.

But for me and, I suspect, millions like me, our habitual watching of late-night television is slowly coming to an end, right along with the closing of the Letterman-Leno era.

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Contact Adam Buckman: adambuckman14@gmail.com

‘News’ about Twitter is news we can’t use

March 19, 2014
Attention, TV news types: Stories about Twitter and Facebook are not news.

Attention, TV news types: Stories about Twitter and Facebook are not news.

By ADAM BUCKMAN

You call this news?

That’s the way I’ve been reacting lately whenever I encounter a “news” story on a TV newscast about Twitter, YouTube, Facebook or any other smartphone- or “new media”-related topic.

Though some might disagree (particularly the news producers and their anchors who are reporting this “news”), my own answer to the question is a resounding no.  Then, my inner dialogue advances to this thought: I eagerly await the day when Twitter reactions and videos going viral are no longer considered “news.”

These so-called “stories” are much too prevalent.  You know the type — the “story” about some topic (usually an instance of celebrity misbehavior) “lighting up” Twitter.  “OMG!” a breathless, grinning anchorperson will exclaim, followed by his or her “report” that “[insert topic] is lighting up Twitter!”  Then will come the inevitable “examples” of these reactions that are “lighting up” the “Twitterverse!”

And this is where these “stories” really lose me.  The highlighted tweets are usually so banal (not to mention bordering on illiterate and lacking in real insight) that you wonder why or how this subject became a “story” worth wasting valuable airtime on.  “OMG,” a Twitterer will exclaim in a typical example, “I cant b leave she [or he] did that! WAJ! [what a jerk]”

I get the same feeling that I’m being had whenever a story is introduced with words to this effect: “It’s the video that going viral today — watch these kittens who seem like they’re dancing the macarena!”

Or, a video-of-the-day may be a clip culled from security-camera footage of a hold-up at a convenience store, or footage from a trooper’s dashboard cam of a particularly difficult arrest in the shoulder of a highway.  Often, these are promoted in such a way on the local newscasts here in New York City that you think the clips were derived locally.  Then, after waiting for almost the entire newscast to see them, you learn they’re from some other state or, worse, some other country.

In New York, the greatest offender of this resort to stories about, and found on, the Internet is the Fox-owned station, Ch. 5.  The station’s 10 o’clock news is so devoted to (and reliant on) stories and tie-ins to Twitter, Facebook and YouTube that the show ought to be renamed “The 10 O’Clock News about Twitter and Facebook.”

Suffice it to say that clips found on the Internet from other locales — be they clips of kittens or crimes — have no business being categorized as news and then clogging up TV newscasts.

Or, to put it another way: Why have the reactions of ordinary people on social media — people with no involvement whatsoever in the stories themselves — become such a vital part of everyone’s reporting these days?  I can’t wait until this particular fad is over.

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Contact Adam Buckman: adambuckman14@gmail.com

Lotta people getting their heads blown off on TV

March 18, 2014

By ADAM BUCKMAN

It’s a sweeping generalization to be sure, but I’ll say it anyway:

When you get right down to it, TV today can be boiled down to this: It’s a lot of people getting their heads blown off.

Charlie Hunnam in "Sons of Anarchy."

Charlie Hunnam in “Sons of Anarchy.”

Hey, maybe I watch too many violent TV shows, but recently when I encountered yet another blood-splattered scene featuring a bullet administered to another person’s forehead, I had an epiphany.  The thought that occurred to me was this: I’ve seen so many of these forehead-busting gunshots on TV that I don’t even think about them anymore.

Of course, I was thinking about it then, but that’s the point.  I’ve seen so many of them that it came as a surprise to be giving the subject a second thought.  And I wondered: How many heads blown off have I actually seen in a lifetime of watching television?

The scene that triggered this line of thinking was one that occurred in a recent episode of “The Americans” on FX.  That’s the series about Soviet spies who are embedded in the Washington suburbs in the final years of the Cold War in the 1980s.  This particular skull-shattering pistol shot occurred after a mini-massacre in the back room of a restaurant.  The victim was a hapless busboy who had the misfortune to still be hanging around at work.  Well, the gunman — the spy named Phillip played by Matthew Rhys — took one look at this would-be witness cowering in a corner and without substantial hesitation splattered the poor guy’s brains all over the kitchen wall.

I don’t mean to pick on “The Americans” or even FX in particular, but it just so happens that FX is where these shots to the head seem to be administered the most frequently and, it bears mentioning, the most casually.  Jax Teller, the motorcycle club president played by Charlie Hunnam on “Sons of Anarchy,” has emerged as TV’s champion of the casual headshot.  Sure, Jax is an unpredictable character, but this was one aspect of his personality that became predictable last season: Often when you did not expect it, Jax would suddenly produce a gun and blow someone’s brains out, instantly solving whatever complicated “problem” he was trying to work through.

What’s the point?  Just this — and stop me if you’ve heard this one before (because I’ve written variations on it many times): Violence on TV has become so gruesome that frequently seeing people shot in the head (with the resultant gore blasting from the backs of their skulls and onto walls, lamps and draperies) isn’t even shocking anymore.

There has to be something wrong with that, right?

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Contact Adam Buckman: adambuckman14@gmail.com

David Brenner: ‘Cool dude’ with a shag haircut

March 18, 2014
David Brenner with Johnny Carson on "The Tonight Show."

David Brenner with Johnny Carson on “The Tonight Show.”

By ADAM BUCKMAN

The obituaries and tributes following the news of David Brenner’s death last weekend all made mention of his generosity toward other comedians.

Colin Quinn

Colin Quinn

One comedian who admired Brenner was Colin Quinn, who brought up Brenner’s name when I interviewed Quinn in 2011 in advance of Quinn’s then-upcoming special on HBO titled “Long Story Short.”

“Who are your favorite comics? Who influenced your comedy?” I asked Quinn during our interview conducted in a small office at HBO in Manhattan.

“I hate to be the cliché, but it was Richard Pryor, George Carlin. I mean, those are the big influences.  And then I remember David Brenner,” Quinn said.

“When I was probably in my early teens, David Brenner was on ‘The Tonight Show’ and he had a brown leather jacket, open shirt down to here, gold chains and a shag haircut and I was like, Wow, a comedian can be like a sexy, cool dude and still be funny!”

Read the whole interview: http://xfin.tv/1iZqUV9

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Contact Adam Buckman: adambuckman14@gmail.com

The rights and the wrongs of Fallon’s debut

February 18, 2014
Jimmy Fallon in his debut as host of "The Tonight Show" Monday night. (Photo: NBC)

Jimmy Fallon in his debut as host of “The Tonight Show” Monday night. (Photo: NBC)

By ADAM BUCKMAN

Jimmy Fallon and his handlers got a great deal of it right in producing his debut show as host of “The Tonight Show” Monday night.

The set was beautiful — a classy interior that reflected the iconic architecture of midtown Manhattan where the newly relocated “Tonight Show” is now situated.

The show made the most of its new New York  home when it featured a sunset performance by U2 on the roof of 30 Rockefeller Plaza.  It was as if to say to doubters who pooh-poohed the show’s move from California (doubters such as yours truly): Here’s why we moved from boring suburban Burbank to the very center of New York City,  OK?

And, as if to dispel the notion that New York would not be as fertile a location as southern California for accessing A-list guests (again, yours truly is guilty as charged with promoting this perception), a parade of A-listers came on one at a time to participate in an elaborate comedy bit “welcoming” Jimmy to “The Tonight Show” — from Robert De Niro to Lady Gaga.

They’re both closely associated with New York City, but at least one of the other stars was not — Kim Kardashian — who’s a southern California celebrity if there ever was one.  She’s also the only one of the celebs seen Monday night on “Tonight” who was also seen on Jay Leno’s final show earlier this month, providing (perhaps inadvertently) the only discernible link between the two shows.

In fact, Fallon’s “Tonight Show” was so shiny and new and full of upbeat energy that it was easy to forget that Leno was last seen a mere 12 days earlier.   While watching the debut of the Fallon “Tonight Show” Monday night, it seemed as if Leno had been gone a lot longer, and his “Tonight Show” a relic of the distant past, rather than a show that ran for the better part of 22 years and ended only on Feb. 6.

Previously: Children’s hour: Fallon takes over ‘Tonight': Jimmy’s ‘Romper Room’ mentality will render ‘The Tonight Show’ completely unrecognizable

One nice touch: Positioning the U2 rooftop performance in the middle of the show, something late-night shows never do traditionally.   Placing the musical guests at the end of the show — as all of the shows do — is so customary that slotting the U2 number earlier in the show was a downright revolutionary thing to do.  I found myself thinking: Hey, are they allowed to do that?  It turns out that they are.

The only weakness of the show was, again, Fallon’s comportment with his guests.  With both Will Smith and U2, Fallon played the role of the wide-eyed, grinning, giggling fan who just can’t believe that these stars are sitting there in the same room with him.

It’s an attitude he ought to lose: The top-tier hosts in late-night have never affected that pose.  David Letterman, Jay Leno, even Jimmy Kimmel — they always come across as if they regard these celebrities as their equals, not as sacred idols whose presence on their shows constitutes some sort of miracle.

That was the style established by Johnny Carson, whose mantle Jimmy Fallon now wears, for better or worse.  Get used to it.

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Contact Adam Buckman: adambuckman14@gmail.com


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