Saturday, January 30, 2016

Cutting the Cable Cord, Part 4: Listening to Jack Benny

Jack Benny, Mary Livingstone,
and Eddie "Rochester" Anderson
Since cutting the cable cord, I’ve found numerous other avenues of entertainment. Earlier this week, a visiting friend from Mexico and I spent the entire evening watching GetTV’s variety Monday night including the legendary segment of the The Judy Garland Show with guest star Barbra Streisand and a surprise appearance by Ethel Merman; a Mitzi Gaynor special with fantastic dancing (I recognized several of the dancers from The Carol Burnett Show) and George Hamilton; and a Merv Griffin Show with Carol Channing walking from the St. James Theater where she was starring in Hello, Dolly! to the Little Theater (now the Helen Hayes) where Griffin filmed his talk show. She was leaving Dolly on Broadway to go on tour.

But I find myself most frequently listening to old broadcasts of Jack Benny on YouTube. Benny’s TV show was in daytime reruns when I was a kid. Today hardly anyone under 50 knows who he is and yet along with Bob Hope, he was probably the famous comedian in America. (Arthur Miller mentions him in Death of a Salesman, and Benny said that brief reference in the classic play would be his ticket to immortality. How right he was.) From 1932 to 1955, Benny did a weekly radio show (he started TV in 1950 and did both for five years.) I find it fascinating that an entertainer could have been so big and now only a small cultish figure in the public consciousness. 

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Political Thoughts

God help us!
GOP candidate Chris Christie recently said parents shouldn't have to worry about sending their kids to school and not having them come back alive. The irony is he was speaking in reference to the San Bernadino shootings by a radical Islamic terrorist couple. He's overlooking the fact that parents have been worried about their children's survival ever since the crazy guy shot up that school in Newtown, Conn. GOP candidates are picking and choosing which mass shootings to be concerned about. If they involve Muslims then it's a real cause for panic. If it's white guys then there's basically nothing we as a society can do about it because that would mean taking away someone's precious gun. You'll notice no one is doing anything about the militant ranchers taking over a government wildlife preserve in Oregon because they didn't like a judge's ruling on their court case. Could it be because these guys are white and Christian? Can you imagine what would happen if they were African-American, Native American, or Muslim?

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Cutting the Cable Cord Part 3: Default Mode Viewing

Judy Garland guest-starring on The Andy Williams Show
The cable cord is now totally cut and I don't miss it at all. We now have a digital antenna for broadcast channels with Netflix and Amazon for streaming. Almost every show I would have missed from cable will show on the latter two services sooner or later. The same for most broadcast shows since we no longer have a DVR. I did catch all of the last season of the Amazing Race and I have caught up with Big Bang Theory for free on CBS's website.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Donald Trump: Raging Id

Donald Trump Free of Hairspray
We have reached the point where Donald Trump is no longer a joke, but a threat to civilized discourse and the political process. He has become the raging id of the American public like the invisible monster in Forbidden Planet which is really Walter Pidgeon's subconscious. No matter what outrageous, childish thing he says, his supporters still favor him. Many pundits are saying none of the traditional rules of politics or even civility apply to Trump and the media lets him get away with all kinds of incredible lies, distortions, evasions, and exaggerations. (Where in New Jersey did he personally see thousands of people cheering for the Twin Towers falling? He said he personally saw this, not film of it on TV.)

I've concluded that a certain percentage of US voters wants to be like Trump. They want their racist, sexist, entitled white male identity to go unchecked and unchallenged. Like schoolyard bullies, they want to be able to make fun of disabled people, foreigners, women, gays, anyone with a difference or expressing an opposing viewpoint, without being called on it by the teacher and made to stand in the corner. They want say Merry Christmas instead of Happy Holidays and not feel guilty about it--and they want to force everyone else to say Merry Christmas. (Trump said at a rally-"When I'm president, everyone will say Merry Christmas" How is he going to accomplish that? With a Christmas micro-chip implanted in our brains and we get a shock if we say Happy Holidays?)

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Roundabout to Present 'Holiday Inn' and 'Cherry Orchard'; Streaming Stars at the Drama Desk Jubilee

Holiday Inn with Bing Crosby, Marjorie Reynolds,
Fred Astaire, and Virginia Dale, will serve
as the basis of a new Broadway musical.
Roundabout Theater Company will present a new stage version of the 1942 movie musical Holiday Inn. The score features such Irving Berlin classics as "Cheek to Cheek," "Easter Parade," and "Shakin' the Blues Away." Previews begin Sept. 1, 2016 for an Oct. 13 opening. Press materials indicate the plot will follow the original film relatively closely. The story focuses on crooner Jim who wants to quit the show-biz rat race and settle down on a Connecticut farm and only do shows during the holidays from New Year's to July 4 to Christmas. He falls in love with singer Linda (Marjorie Reynolds) but fears she will be stolen away to big bad Hollywood by his former partner Ted (Fred Astaire). How will they handle the minstrel show sequence for Abraham Lincoln's birthday? In the original film, Crosby as Jim wears blackface and forces Linda to don it also so that Ted will not recognize her (Ted showed up on New Year's Eve and danced with her but was so drunk he didn't find out her name, but he would remember her face). This leads to a whole production number with Crosby, Marjorie Reynolds and the entire white chorus in blackface singing the praises of Lincoln while offstage the housekeeper Louise Beavers joins in. It's pretty offensive and indicative of the casual racism of the era. When they would show the movie on TV when I was growing up, the local Phila. station would usually cut the offending number. They'll probably cut the whole thing. This production premiered at Goodspeed in 2014.

Monday, October 26, 2015

NY Tabloids Shrink Theater Coverage

James Earl Jones and Cicely Tyson are click-worthy enough
to get their show The Gin Game a full review in the New York Post.
Credit: Joan Marcus
In the past year, several publications and services such as Associated Press and the Village Voice have drastically cut back on their theater and arts coverage. Except for NY-1, TV stations no longer run reviews at all. That disturbing shrinking trend continues. Not even Broadway is safe from this neglect. Both the New York Post and the Daily News, two tabloids losing millions of dollars a year, have reduced their reviews and features of the stage. This strike me as very weird considering Broadway is the single largest tourist attraction in the city, taking in more annually at the box office than all sports franchises combined. But, evidently, reviews are not getting enough clicks on line unless a major movie star is above the title. Years ago, I had thought the Internet would lead to more theater coverage, not less. What we are getting is more unpaid, unprofessional reviews and less major media consideration of the theater. As a result, a major portion of the city and nation's cultural life is being marginalized.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Cutting the Cable, Part II

When I cut cable, I'll still be able to watch
The Judy Garland Show on GetTV
You never know when your 15 minutes of fame will come. Yesterday I received a call from a TV news producer who read my last blog about cutting the cable cord and she wants to interview me about it. She just happens to be in Queens on this coming Monday, doing a story at JFK, so she asked to come to my place in Jackson Heights afterwards. Hopefully it will all work out.

I explained I haven't cut the cord completely as of yet. We have bought a Radio Shack antenna online and I have connected it. We are now able to receive local channels out of the air including the major broadcast networks, Spanish and Chinese channels,  and a bunch of crappy channels showing 30 and 40 year old reruns I didn't know were broadcast including MeTV, Cosi, Antenna, a Game Show Network knockoff called Buzzer, and GetTV which is now showing old Merv Griffin Shows and the Judy Garland Show from the early 1960s. I plan to disconnect cable this week and take all three of my boxes into the Time Warner Cable office and save about $140 a month.

I will have to rely on individual networks's sites to watch my current favorites like The Big Bang Theory, The Amazing Race and Project Runway (I can't find the current Doctor Whos, but if I am patient, it will turn up on Netflix eventually.) But when I was watching the latest episode of Project Runway on Lifetime's websitemy viewing experience was interrupted by an extended commercial with Cate Blanchett for Armani perfume. The downside of catching up with your favorite shows on the Internet without paying for it is the commercials. Geico tried to get around it by trying to be clever. They say "You can't skip this commercial because it's already over" and the guys pretend to be frozen. Then the woman comes in and says "What's going on here?"

The Cate Blanchett ad got stuck and I had to start the whole episode over again. Then, during the runway critique, the audio for a diabetes medication started at the same time. I'm glad they finally got rid of Merline who had improved but I was never impressed with her work.

I'll let you know what happens with the TV interview and the continuing saga of cutting cable.