Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Seth MacFarlane and the Oscars

So what did I think of the Oscars?

Funny you should ask.

Besides it being too long -- isn't it always? -- and despite the fact that most of the awards are of interest only to those in the film industry, I thought this year's event was injected with a healthy dose of inventiveness, making it a refreshing change from the recent past.

Most of the day-after water cooler chatter had to do with host Seth MacFarlane.

(A disclaimer: I met MacFarlane when my son was a writer on his animated sit-com "American Dad" and I watched him work several times at "table reads," where the cast performs a script for the first time. He's funny, likable and extremely talented. So let's just say I was inclined to enjoy his Oscar performance even before the first joke.)

Here's what you have to understand about MacFarlane and the Oscars: He was hired in large part because of his appeal to young males, a demographic the aging Oscars show needed to attract to the broadcast. (TV ratings did rise overall and in that category.) And he was selected because the producers wanted what MacFarlane could deliver: the kind of edginess that has helped make his three Fox comedies ("Family Guy" and "The Cleveland Show" are the two) and his movie "Ted" popular, plus his ability to sing standards in the manner of old Hollywood. In short, MacFarlane is a younger, hipper Billy Crystal, a perennial Oscar favorite.

So MacFarlane performed as advertised, something he parodied in a bit-too-long opening routine anticipating him being called the worst Oscars host ever (with which many on Twitter during the show and in the press afterwards were in agreement).

Here's the equation: Past Oscars shows have been considered predictable and, yes, boring. Bring in an irreverent performer and turn him loose. Then duck when spitballs from an offended peanut gallery come flying.

Jokes about breasts, domestic violence and Jews in Hollywood drew the predictable screams of foul from some individuals and special interest groups.

(Meanwhile, the "In Memoriam" segment, something with which MacFarlane wasn't involved, produced anger among Hispanics for the omission of an actress they thought was snubbed. (Days before the Oscars there were reports about "In Memoriam" being such a hotly contested segment, given the guarantee of many exclusions, that the names of those who decide who's in and who's out are closely guarded secret, lest they be subjected to backlash.)

What all this says to me is that there's no tougher "room" than the Oscars, both in the theater and on TV. When you look up "no-win situation" in the dictionary, there's Oscar.

Hey, it's supposed to be entertainment, all in good fun, from the movie capital of the world, no less. Lighten up. If the Seth MacFarlanes of the business are scared away from hosting future Oscars, we'll get more shows hosted by the likes of Ann Hathaway and James Franco. Remember when they had the gig? Yikes.

If you want to know what disappointed me most about this year's show, it was that other than the electrifying performance of "Goldfinger" by Shirley Bassey, the James Bond tribute highlight reel was pedestrian stuff. I'd hoped that all the James Bonds would do a walk-on -- Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig. It's been speculated that both Connery and Brosnan weren't interested in attending.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

In case you were wondering ...

* As one who's in remission from a different kind of blood cancer, I'm heartened by Robin Roberts' amazing recovery from a life-threatening disease and subsequent return to morning TV today. That said, I've never been a fan of Roberts, dating back to her days at ESPN. Meanwhile, don't tell me ABC didn't exploit Roberts' condition to milk ratings.

* Speaking of morning TV, if NBC named David Gregory to permanently replace Matt Lauer, the "Today" program would be significantly improved. Gregory's been filling in for Lauer the last couple of days. He's been sharp, funny and likable, and he meshes well with co-host Savannah Guthrie, who has been a big upgrade over Ann Curry.

* Give credit to those who had the guts to speak up for the state's gun law at last night's Ulster County Legislature meeting at UPAC. It couldn't have been easy given the hecklers and boo-birds they encountered in the large crowd.

* I'm looking forward to Seth MacFarlane hosting the Oscars, but I suspect if he sticks to his irreverent "Family Guy", "Ted", "American Dad", "Cleveland Show" humor, the core audience in Hollywood and in Middle America will be upset. If one-time host David Letterman's relatively mild "Uma ... Oprah" was panned in 1994, MacFarlane doesn't have a chance. Hope I'm wrong.

* My wife's out of town. Thank goodness for the hot food and salad bar offerings at Adams.

* I have three email addresses, one of which attracts an endless stream of spam, which I immediately trash without opening. I'm guessing I'm not alone, thus the question: Does anyone read this stuff and, if not, why do spammers continue to send it?

* I don't much like politics, but in my next life I'm coming back as a political consultant so I can get a lucrative contract from a cable channel in between elections.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Mr. Wonderful

* Phil Mushnick's New York Post column is a must-read, particularly when he's keeping tabs of the overrated, overexposed, overbearing sports radio talker Mike Francesa. Today's piece is a perfect example:

Even by Mike Francesa’s transparent and hilariously haughty standards, he has been on a spectacular run. A few highlights:

Tuesday, his superior expertise and extensive inside knowledge of all college football and NFL matters allowed him to predict Louisville QB Teddy Bridgewater will be “the steal of the [this year’s] draft,” adding he could go earlier than Southern Cal QB Matt Barkley.

But Al Alburquerque has as good a chance to be drafted. As a “true sophomore,” Bridgewater is not even eligible for the NFL draft. Oh, well.

Then there was his “interview” with Dick Vermeil, more an opportunity for Francesa to tell Vermeil how much he knows about football and to tell listeners how he and Vermeil have been pals for years.

Late in the chat, Vermeil, ostensibly the fellow who was being interviewed, interrupted Francesa with, “I don’t mean to interrupt.” Classic.

Then there were Francesa’s chronic problems with straight addition math as applied to his football picks. Francesa always loses track of his losing picks, when he has merely misplaced them — over there in the “win” column.

Heck last year he claimed to have picked the Giants to cover in Super Bowl XLII when, in fact, he picked the Patriots to crush the Giants.

Even this NFL postseason — 11 games, easy to track — the simple math threw him. He claimed to have finished “6-4 or 7-3,” but as truth-tracker Gary Lewbel chronicled, Francesa was 5-5-1. Yes, even the smallest, most foolish matters fuel his egomania. Hey, 5-5-1 — for you, Mike? — that’s fabulous!

And there was his expert tout that this Super Bowl’s ratings would be poor. Leave it to Mikey! It’s now believed to be the third most-viewed TV program in U.S. history.

Which brings us to next year’s Super Bowl, at PSL Stadium. Francesa already has authoritatively ensured us that the weather here on Feb. 2 will not be an issue.

And that can mean only one thing: The Great Super Bowl Blizzard of 2014 is just 51 weeks away!

Monday, February 4, 2013

All fall down ...

* If you use the Tappan Zee Bridge and you have a strong stomach, make sure you read this story from New York Magazine. Even if you're not of the faint of heart and keeping traversing the Tappan Zee, you'll grip the wheel harder each time you do, praying your trip isn't the one during which the span collapses.

* My Ed Koch story: The state newspapers publishers were conducting their convention in Manhattan, 1998, I believe. I was the chairman of the board and introduced the guest speakers. Even though he'd been out of office for years, you couldn't do an event like this one in New York City without inviting the outspoken Koch. He didn't disappoint. I remember telling Koch that as a New York City native, I appreciated what he had done to inject new energy and spirit in a city that really needed it after the financial crisis of the Abe Beame years. Koch was gracious in accepting the praise (which he no doubt believed was earned and probably not effusive enough), and he even seemed to like the commemorative golf shirts each guest received (although I'm guessing that if he wore it, it wasn't on the golf course). Koch was a character in many ways, outspoken and often politically incorrect. But he loved his city and was a "public servant" in the finest meaning of the phrase. At his funeral this morning, as the coffin was being removed from the temple, the organist played "New York, New York". That says it all, no?

* I almost made it through the day without watching any of the Super Bowl, which is my annual goal (mostly fulfilled since I left the sports department). But that darn power outage at the Superdome screwed it up, because the office emailed me with a question about moving back our press time to get the result in today's paper so I needed to see how far along the game had progressed. As it was, we had arranged for a special press time (an hour later than normal), so the Super blackout created an unanticipated situation. The decision was to start the press at the pre-determined 10:30 p.m. without the final score, then stop it and send a new lead sports page once the game was over. Shortly after 11 p.m. the updated page was sent. Thus, the final score wound up in just over half of today's copies. As for why I don't watch the game (or its endless prelims), it's a habit I've stubbornly adhered to all these year, mostly to be different. Not sure what that says about me. Calling Dr. Phil!

* By the way, the movie I recorded to watch instead of the Super Bowl was 2006's "The Black Dahlia". Bad choice. I really like Los Angeles film noirs (think "LA Confidential"), but this one fell short.

* Radio daze: WAMC (90.9 FM Kingston) is fund-raising again (1-800-323-9252). I'm on the station's board and a regular on its "Media Project" program, so you know where my heart is regarding Northeast Public Radio. Meantime, my standard first-Tuesday-of-the-month visit to Kingston Community Radio (WGHQ 92 AM) comes up at 7:30 a.m. tomorrow. Give me a call at (845-331-9255). I'll be on until 8 a.m.