Archive for December, 2011

Here comes the judge: Howard Stern on ‘AGT’

December 15, 2011

Howard Stern on NBC? Yes, it’s happening.

By ADAM BUCKMAN

NEW YORK, Dec. 15, 2011 — NBC finally made it official Thursday morning: Howard Stern’s been hired as the third judge on “America’s Got Talent,” replacing the departed Piers Morgan.  Stern will be seen on the show starting next summer.

There are likely many people who are scratching their heads over this hire, people who don’t see how on earth Howard Stern, the notorious radio personality whose conversations with guests on his Sirius XM radio show are often X-rated, will now be seen on one of our biggest TV networks in a show that, if nothing else, is suitable for the whole family.

Sure, on the face of it, he doesn’t seem compatible with this show at all.  But, in fact, he’s a great choice.  Here’s why and how it happened:

1) Stern’s adaptable: One thing many people other than his most ardent fans fail to realize — Howard Stern is a very gifted broadcaster.  Whether you enjoy the subject matter of his conversations on the radio or not, he is still one of the best there is at talking, which, believe it or not, is a skill that only a few have.  And among his skills is this: Putting the potty talk on hold when it’s necessary to do so — on late-night shows, for example, and also when he used to voice commercials for sponsors of his radio show; those commercials were second-to-none.  On “AGT,” Stern will clean up his act accordingly because, while I know this is difficult for many to believe, the guy is a consummate professional.  Yes, it’s true.

2) NBC needed him: How badly?  Enough to move heaven and earth — and the show from L.A. to New York — to get him.  And it will be worth it too — Stern will not only be very entertaining week after week, but the man is an electro-magnet for media attention.  His utterings on the show will be widely covered, at least initially, and “AGT” will reap the benefits in publicity.  In fact, with Stern on board, there’s little reason, other than timing, why this show shouldn’t air during the regular season on NBC, instead of the summer.  It would certainly do better than “The Sing-Off” or “The Biggest Loser,” competition shows that NBC had on its fall lineup this season that performed terribly in the ratings.

3) Stern “needed” this gig: Not in the sense that one “needs” a job in order to make money to support his family.  Stern’s rich enough to never have to work, but I suspect that an offer like this was irresistible to Stern, if it could be arranged.  Ever since he left terrestrial radio for Sirius, Stern has not been nearly the center of attention he once was in the heyday of his national morning show on old-fashioned broadcast radio.  With this “AGT” gig, he gets an opportunity for exposure in what is probably the most mainstream environment of his career — a G-rated talent show on one of our major TV networks.  Plus, he gets to feel relevant again, a media personality who still has the clout to get a network to roll out the red carpet for him, even though his history on television is mixed at best, and at worst, dismal.

Howard Stern on “America’s Got Talent”?  Our prediction: “AGT” is now poised to become the most talked-about TV show of 2012.

Contact Adam Buckman: adambuckman14@gmail.com

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Inside the origins of ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’

December 7, 2011

Downtrodden Charlie Brown searches for the true meaning of Christmas in the revered holiday special “A Charlie Brown Christmas” (Photo: ABC).

CBS EXECS HATED SHOW, PREDICTED IT WOULD FLOP

By ADAM BUCKMAN

NEW YORK, Dec. 7, 2011 — It went on to become the most popular and beloved of all of TV’s Christmas specials, but when CBS executives first laid eyes on “A Charlie Brown Christmas” in 1965, they didn’t care for it.

“They just didn’t like the show when I brought it to them” for the first time, recalled one of the show’s producers, Lee Mendelson, 78, in a recent phone interview from California.  Mendelson was executive producer of the special, along with “Peanuts” creator Charles Schulz, who died in 2000, and the late Bill Melendez.

“They just didn’t, for whatever reason, like the show,” he said.   “The first thing they said was, ‘Well, it’s going to go on next week.  There’s nothing we can do about it,’ but I remember them saying it will probably be the first and last Charlie Brown show.  . . .  They thought it was too slow, they didn’t like the jazz music so much on a Christmas show – in other words, these were all creative things that they didn’t like.”

In fact, Mendelson and Melendez thought they’d “missed the boat” too.  It was their first network special with Schulz and his Peanuts characters and it was shaping up to be their last.  “When we finished the show, Bill and I were very discouraged,” Mendelson said.  “In fact, Bill thought we had really missed the boat [and] I remember one of the animators stood up in the back and said, ‘You guys are crazy.  This is gonna run for a hundred years!’  We thought he was crazy.”

Mendelson also shed light on a popular misconception about “A Charlie Brown Christmas” – namely, that the CBS execs objected to the special’s Christian content.  “They had no problem with the [show’s] religious aspects,” Mendelson said.

In the show’s famous “biblical verse” scene – unique in the annals of holiday TV specials – an anguished Charlie Brown vents his frustration over the commercialism that has overtaken the holiday.  “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?” he asks.

Linus then strides to center stage and asks that the lights be dimmed.  He then recites the Bible passage – from the gospel according to Luke, verses 8-14.  “And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night,” he says.  “And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them . . .  And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.  . . . ”

If anyone had reservations about the Bible verses, it was Mendelson and Melendez, but not Schulz because it was Schulz’s idea.  Recalled Mendelson, “I remember when we were drawing up the show, Schulz said, ‘We’re going to have [Linus] read from the Bible.’  And Bill and I looked at each other and Bill said, ‘You know, I don’t think animated characters have probably ever read from the Bible.  And I remember Schulz’s response.  He said, ‘Bill, if we don’t do it, who will?’ ”

Despite everyone’s reservations about the special, it was a smash – watched by about half the country (on Dec. 9, 1965).  Among other things, the jazz music – by the Vince Guaraldi Trio – that the CBS execs disliked became world famous.  And it was far from the last Peanuts special produced by the triumvirate of Schulz, Mendelson and Melendez.  They made dozens of others in a collaboration that lasted about 30 years.

This year, “A Charlie Brown Christmas” is airing on network TV for its 47th consecutive holiday season.

Contact Adam Buckman: adambuckman14@gmail.com

Joan Rivers’ own tragic history on ‘The Simpsons’

December 5, 2011

Krusty the Clown and agent Annie Dubinsky (Joan Rivers) in last Sunday’s episode of “The Simpsons” on Fox (Photos: Fox)

By ADAM BUCKMAN

NEW YORK, Dec. 5, 2011 — “The Simpsons” crammed a ton of TV history into that new episode seen this past Sunday night on Fox — not only spoofing Ralph Kramden and “The Honeymooners” and other iconic shows — but also featuring a storyline for guest-star Joan Rivers that cut close to the bone.

It was a story about a top comedy talent headlining a network TV show and the show’s headstrong producer, with whom the comedian has a close personal relationship.  In the episode, the producer — played by Rivers — threw her weight around so much on the set that network execs ordered the comedian, Krusty the Clown, to fire her, or else they would.

The story, no doubt devised with Rivers’ approval and possibly with her input, mirrored her own personal history — with Fox, no less — back in 1987.  That’s when she starred in a late-night show on the then-fledgling network — “The Late Show Starring Joan Rivers” — while her husband, Edgar Rosenberg, acted as executive producer.  When Fox execs ordered her to fire Edgar, she refused and they were both canned.  Three months later, he committed suicide — the worst tragedy of Rivers’ life.

And yet, there she was on “The Simpsons” spoofing her own tragic history — something only a comedian of her stature and experience would attempt.

In the episode, Krusty’s kids show got cancelled because he was so sadly behind the times (even referring in a meeting with network executives to “Percy Dovetonsils,” a character not seen on TV since the late Ernie Kovacs played him in the 1950s).  So Krusty linked up with Annie Dubinsky (Rivers), who was once his agent and girlfriend in the 1960s until he dumped her.  This past Sunday, she engineered his comeback after the cancellation.  But then, he had to fire her.

The whole episode dealt with the history of television, starting out with a Simpson family outing to the Springfield Museum of Television, which was closing and holding a memorabilia fire sale because no one apparently cared anymore about the early history of TV.  And, as Homer lamented, you don’t need to visit a museum anymore to see clips of old shows when you have the Internet.

At the museum, the family encountered an exhibit devoted to an old — and fictional — black-and-white show from the ’50s called “Fatso Flanagan,” which bore more than a resemblance to the old “Honeymooners.”  Homer and Marge even mimicked the famed “Baby, you’re the greatest!” scenes from “The Honeymooners” as Homer described how almost every comedy ever made for TV was based somehow on “The Honeymooners.”

It was an incredibly rich episode, and one that ought to put to rest, at least for now, rumblings from some critics lately that “The Simpsons” ought to be put out to pasture.  All we can say to that is this: Not yet, Fox — not yet.

Contact Adam Buckman: adambuckman14@gmail.com


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