Open Mic

Sex and Nudity Take Center Stage as Creators Behind TV's Watercooler Shows Tell All

Hillary Atkin Posted April 21, 2014 at 1:26 PM

It’s not often outside of awards season that creators of some of television’s most riveting and successful dramas get together in one room for a deep dive into what goes into making their hit programs.

That was the agenda for Michelle Ashford, creator and executive producer of Showtime’s “Masters of Sex," Carlton Cuse, co-creator, showrunner, writer and executive producer of A&E’s “Bates Motel," and Jenji Kohan, creator and executive producer of Netflix’s “Orange Is The New Black," the headliners of the Hollywood Radio & Television Society’s Hitmakers Newsmaker Luncheon, held April 16 at the Beverly Hilton’s International Ballroom. The fourth participant -- and the only broadcast television representative--John Eisendrath (“The Blacklist”) was a last-minute cancellation due to production of the NBC show.

Two of the three programs are based on the lives of real people while the third derives from a classic film, so the first question on the table from panel moderator Michael Schneider was about how beholden the creators feel to truth and accuracy.

For “Masters of Sex,” based on a 2009 book about sex researchers William Masters and Virginia Johnson, Ashford said the science is never fudged, but that composite characters were created for the drama, which stars Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan as the lead characters.

“Thomas Maier’s book is very thorough but there are gaps that allow us freedom to fill in the blanks,” said Ashford.

Although “Orange” is based on the memoir of a woman’s time behind bars, Kohan said show producers deviated from the source material, even though author Piper Kerman wasn’t comfortable with some aspects of the fictionalized version. She is, however, consulted on issues about how her character would react in certain situations.

“All of the [other] women come out of our imaginations,” said Kohan, whose series will launch a second season in June.

With “Bates Motel” using the iconic 1960 Alfred Hitchcock film as source material for a drama set in contemporary times that takes place before the events of the film, Cuse said the guiding principle of the prequel was the fact that nothing was known about Norman Bates’ mother, Norma.

“What if she was a multidimensional woman preventing him from becoming what he became?” Cuse said. “It’s a tragedy, it’s Shakespeare, but we didn’t pitch it that way. We used the ‘Psycho’ moniker to tell a mother-son story in another time. We didn’t want to live in the shadow of the movie. There’s no gain in trying to improve it. But we kept the iconic house and the Bates Motel. It lends it a sort of timelessness that was intentional and shows their relationship and conflict with the outside world.”

Although “Masters” is a period piece, the issues it deals with are contemporary. “It only made sense if it spoke to a modern audience,” said Ashford. "I don’t like graphic sex, so that presented a dilemma. Sex is often portrayed as a cliche. But in our story, it is strange and uncomfortable.”

“I love graphic sex,” Kohan interjected, before discussing the challenges of having actors deal with nudity. “There’s a lot of negotiating but it doesn’t get easier. People are weird about it. Nudity isn’t necessarily sexuality. It’s a hard sell. There’s one rule: Penises can’t be erect.”

From sexuality, the conversation veered into the distinction of comedy versus drama and the vagaries of deciding which category shows fall in for the Emmy Awards.

“I wish it was half an hour or one hour. It’s getting more muddled,” said Kohan. She also discussed shooting in New York, but rued the runaway production from L.A. “You can’t beat the 35% tax credit, but there’s a fight for resources.” “Bates Motel” shoots in Canada; “Masters” in Los Angeles.

One thing the panelists agreed on was that television is the place for quality drama and continues to attract quality actors, including many from features.

“Vera [Farmiga] was my first choice,” Cuse said of his lead actress. “I think if it was a feature we couldn’t improve on the cast.” “Bates Motes” co-lead Freddie Highmore also came from film, and “Masters’” Sheen holds prestigious stage, screen and television roles on his list of credits.

Kohan expressed gratitude that her show did not go through the pilot process. “It’s a vote of confidence to have a series order. It was music to my ears to go straight to series,” she said.

“If you believe in the idea and the creators, you should order the show,” said Cuse, whose program began its second season last month and has already been picked up for a third ten-episode season.

When the discussion turned to social media, Ashford and Kohan said they are not on Twitter. “It’s an intensive process and we have an incredible support staff doing it,” Ashford said. “To me, it’s noise, but essential to get the show out there.”

“I have work to do and I don’t want to deal with it,” Kohan said of tweeting. “I think it contributes to the culture of giving away your work for free. Then everyone thinks they’re entitled to your work, and that concerns me.”

“I see the value of Twitter but it’s hard to find time for it,” said Cuse, who regularly gets asked about “Lost” by stalwart fans and hears about their binge-watching.

Hashtag: #AddictiveTelevision.

22nd MTV Movie Awards -- No Flash in the Pan, But It Went by in a Flash

Hillary Atkin Posted April 17, 2014 at 8:55 AM

“The Wolf of Wall Street” apparently didn’t howl quite loud enough to wrest the top golden popcorn trophies from the claws of “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” at the 2014 MTV Movie Awards Sunday at the Nokia Theatre, where "Catching Fire" claimed Best Picture, Best Actress (Jennifer Lawrence) and Best Actor (Josh Hutcherson).

The always irreverent two-hour awards show seems to go by in a flash compared with other ceremonies, because of the fast pace of presenters and presentations along with exclusive previews of highly anticipated films -- which this year included looks at “The Amazing Spider-Man 2,” “X-Men: Days of Future Past” and “Transformers: Age of Extinction.”

And, putting back some of the music in the moniker MTV and demonstrating its ongoing relevance, some headlining musical numbers from the likes of Eminem and Rihanna, dueting for the first time live on their new single “The Monster,” and Ellie Goulding and Zedd, who brought the “Divergent” soundtrack to life with their new hit single “Beating Heart.”

For the first time, taking a lesson from the VMAs, which has served to launch artists including Florence + The Machine and Young the Giant, the Movie Awards featured a music discovery slot called “MTV Artist to Watch.” The spot went to the band twenty one pilots, who delivered a riveting performance of their new single, “Car Radio," which immediately vaulted their album to #1 on the iTunes alternative album charts. 

Hosted by Conan O’Brien, the 2014 kudocast was tamer than many of its 21 previous editions -- with several recipients including Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum reminiscing that they had watched the show as kids and either dreamed of or never thought they’d be capable of being up on stage accepting a trophy from MTV. Aww …

O’Brien got the party started with an opening video showing him accepting the challenge to get 50 celebrity cameos into it, which featured the late-night host in funny interactions with people ranging from Jack Nicholson to Andy Samberg, Taylor Swift and Jack White, none of whom appeared too pleased to be accosted by him -- especially White, after O’Brien grabbed the guitar out of his hands and trashed it.

With O’Brien stating that his goal was to make the show the best ever, more laughter ensued when he showed six-second Vine videos encapsulating the essence of two of the year’s top films, “Wolf” and “American Hustle” -- both culminating with Matthew McConaughey’s infamous chest-thump chant. Then, O’Brien showed an amalgamation of the awards for Best Kiss and Best Fight with him facing off in a passionate battle against Will Arnett.

Then there was his special, fake award for Best Product Placement, which went to "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug," for a clunky Pepsi machine planted on Middle Earth.

But it wasn’t entirely fun and frivolity. The audience, which always includes a large mosh pit surrounding the stage that loudly shows its love, was stilled as Jared Leto gave a moving acceptance speech -- he won the trophy for best transformation for playing Rayon in “Dallas Buyers Club” -- about eliminating not only HIV/AIDS but the stigma that still surrounds the disease.

Later, Jordana Brewster fronted a moving tribute to Paul Walker, whose “Fast and Furious” films have been an MTV Movie Awards mainstay. The video spotlighted not only the late actor’s on-screen scenes and remembrances from co-stars including Vin Diesel but also his humanitarian and charitable work.

Yet the awards, most of which are voted on by fans, are overwhelmingly light-hearted, with categories for Best Villain, which went to Mila Kunis, and Best Shirtless Performance, taken by Zac Efron.

That presentation featured a bit of a John Travolta/Idina Menzel moment, with Jessica Alba pronouncing Zac’s last name as “Eefron,” after which co-presenter Rita Ora ripped his shirt off to squeals and cheers from the audience.

Tatum was presented with the Trailblazer Award by his “22 Jump Street” co-star Jonah Hill, who ribbed the actor for blazing a trail as a “gorgeous guy who becomes a movie star.”

Seth Rogen’s mom took center stage when despite his protests and eventual acquiescence, the two engaged in a passionate kiss in a skit that saw two members of the audience running up on stage to first smooch his "Neighbors" co-stars Dave Franco and Zac Efron as they presented the award for Best Kiss.

After the award went to Will Poulter, the British actor’s acceptance speech was uncannily interrupted by a text from Jennifer Aniston, with whom he’d starred in "We're the Millers," which he read aloud. Presumably in all good fun, she called him a “doucher,” and said the reason she didn’t show up at the ceremony is that she never wanted to be near him ever again.

Mark Wahlberg was given the Generation Award, presented by “Entourage’s” Kevin Dillon, Jerry Ferrera and Adrian Grenier. In an f-bomb-infused acceptance speech, the former underwear model and onetime rapper commented on the honor by saying, "I know what this really means. Many people have gotten this award before -- Jim Carrey, Ben Stiller, Jennifer Aniston -- this is the you're too (expletive) old to come back award. This is 'you're f---ing done.' But you know what, it was a great run."

We doubt that Wahlberg is done, or too old for further MTV recognition, with the “Entourage” movie and “Ted 2” on the horizon.

A Tribute to the Most Enjoyable Movie Ever Made, and the TV Channel That Is a National Treasure for Airing It 125 Times in the Last 20 Years

Chuck Ross Posted April 13, 2014 at 7:37 PM

I first fell in love with Ingrid Bergman when I was a young teenager and she was just 26 years old.

She still is.

My feelings for her have been rekindled each of the dozen or so times I've watched her as she first enters Rick's Café Américain and makes eye contact with Sam, at his piano.

The movie is "Casablanca," which remains the most enjoyable movie I've ever seen. I first came to it on TV, which is how most baby boomers came to fall in love with the movies. When I was growing up in Los Angeles in the 1950s and 1960s, old movies from the 1940s in particular were TV staples.

From the nightly "Million Dollar Movie" on RKO's Channel 9 to the weekly "Fabulous 52" on KNXT Channel 2 to the daily Ben Hunter Movie Matinee on KTTV Channel 11, to name but three, it was a cornucopia of cinema.

While there were commercials galore, and who knows what was edited out of the movies to make them fit the time slots, one thing remained true: On our box-shaped Admiral and Philco black-and-white TV sets, the 4:3 ratio of the picture was almost identical to the 1.33:1 ratio in which most black-and-white movies of the 30s and 40s had been shot.

Since so many of those movies emphasized talk over action, and were primarily made up of single-subject close-ups or frames of film with just two actors in them -- called two shots -- we felt we were getting a reasonable facsimile of seeing what the movies were like when they were projected on the big screen.

Don't get me wrong -- watching a movie on TV in one's living room, even back then, was certainly not the same as seeing a nitrate print of a wonderfully photographed black-and-white movie shimmering on a bigger-than-life canvas in a darkened theater with no distractions. But as a way to fall in love with movies we could not otherwise hope to see, it was a damn fine substitute.

And it still is. Today, April 14, 2014, is the 20th anniversary of the debut of Turner Classic Movies -- TCM -- on TV. And the network has remained true to its founding principles -- the showing, primarily, of old black-and-white American movies uncut and without commercial interruption.

In being true to this simple mission, TCM continues to be a public service practically unique among TV channels. Contained within the sounds and images from TCM that now flicker digitally into our homes and onto to our screens both big and small, both stationary and mobile, are both a history of our past and the keys to our future.

No movie illustrates this better than “Casablanca.”

“Casablanca,” which won the Oscar for Best Picture of 1942, came out a decade before I was born, and I didn’t first see it until it was a little more than two decades old. It was a hit when it came out almost a year after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, at a time when America was fully engaged in World War II. And, as it happened, there were events in WWII happening in Casablanca around the time of the film’s release as well.

But what’s amazing is that both 20 years after “Casablanca’ came out -- when I first saw it -- and today, this contemporary World War II movie resonates in such a timeless fashion.

“Casablanca” has been repeatedly characterized as a “happy accident.” But I demur. I’ve read a lot about “Casablanca” over the years, and my conclusion is that the movie is better described this way: “Casablanca” was no more an accident than were most of the other movies made under the studio system. That’s basically how movie historian and reporter Aljean Harmetz described “Casablanca” in her 1992 book “Round Up the Usual Suspects: The Making of ‘Casablanca’ -- Bogart, Bergman, and World War II.”

“Casablanca” resonates because it’s excitingly, almost breathlessly filmed by director Michael Curtiz with a camera that seems to be on steroids; because the romance is so heartbreakingly played out; and because the movie, ultimately, appeals to the very best in each and every one of us.

All of this is done with performances that are letter-perfect from every single cast member and a script that is, arguably, the best movie script ever written.

And the glue that held all of this together was clearly the genius of Hal Wallis, the film’s producer, without whom the messy jigsaw puzzle pieces that were the pre-production and production of “Casablanca” would never have been put together in such a picture-perfect way.

If there is more chemistry on-screen between any two leading actors than the chemistry in “Casablanca” between Bergman and Humphrey Bogart, then 42, I haven’t seen it.

In her 1980 autobiography “Ingrid Bergman: My Story,” the Swedish-born actress surprisingly wrote this about “Casablanca”: “I’d hardly got to know Humphrey Bogart at all. Oh, I’d kissed him, but I didn’t know him. He was polite, naturally, but I always felt there was a distance; he was behind a wall. I was intimidated by him. ‘The Maltese Falcon’ [starring Bogart] was playing in Hollywood at the time and I used to go and see it quite often during the shooting of ‘Casablanca’ because I got to know him a little better through that picture.”

What I love about that is here we find Bergman saying that she’s falling in love with Bogart the same way all the rest of us did -- through one of his great film performances. She was falling for the same celluloid Bogie that we did.

Furthermore, as it turns out, the nobility of Rick Blaine was part of the essence of Bogart as well, according to an article written by Alistair Cooke for the Atlantic Monthly in May 1957, four months after Bogart died: “From all [Bogart] was determined to keep his secret: the rather shameful secret, in the realistic world we inhabit, of being a gallant man and an idealist.”

Among the many wonderful insights in Aljean Harmetz’s book about the making of “Casablanca” are those about the script. First, she notes that many of the memorable lines that ended up in the final film were actually in the unproduced play “Everybody Comes to Rick’s” by Murray Burnett and Joan Alison that “Casablanca” was based upon.

She also deciphers, as best she can, what was written by the identical-twin Epstein brothers, Julius and Philip, and what was written by Howard Koch. Because all three were employed as studio writers by Warner Bros., it wasn’t a case, like today, where one writer -- or writing team -- works on a script and then they wave it goodbye as some other writer revises it.

Writes Harmetz in her book about the making of “Casablanca”: “Each subsequent [version] of the script became leaner and sharper, more economical, the scenes rearranged for greater dramatic effect and the speeches polished and clipped. Within the confines of a studio that both Koch and Julie Epstein describe as ‘a family,’ Koch rewrote the Epsteins to give the movie more weight and significance, and the Epsteins then rewrote Koch to erase his most ponderous symbols and earnestness.”

In one specific example of this process, writes Harmetz, Koch “deepened Rick’s character and underlined the political tensions in subtle ways. For example Koch makes the man Rick bars from his gambling room -- who was an English cad in the original play -- into a representative of the Deutschebank.” Furthermore, Harmetz notes that “if Koch layered the politics rather heavily … the Epsteins would remove those speeches. … With delicate balance, Koch managed to hold down the gags, while the Epsteins managed to cut the preaching.”

One more reason “Casablanca” works so well is both the dialogue given to, and the performance of, Claude Rains, who plays Captain Louis Renault.

Renault is the classic foil with whom we in the audience so identify. Without Renault I’m pretty sure “Casablanca” would not be the endearing classic it became.

I said at the top of this piece that “Casablanca” is the most enjoyable movie I’ve ever seen. I also like how the late movie critic Roger Ebert once described how so many of us feel about it:

"Casablanca" is The Movie.

There are greater movies. More profound movies. Movies of greater artistic vision or artistic originality or political significance. There are other titles we would put above it on our lists of the best films of all time. But when it comes right down to the movies we treasure the most, when we are -- let us imagine -- confiding the secrets of our heart to someone we think we may be able to trust, the conversation sooner or later comes around to the same seven words:

"I really love 'Casablanca'."

"I do too."

This is a movie that has transcended the ordinary categories. It has outlived the Bogart cult, survived the revival circuit, shrugged off those who would deface it with colorization, leaped across time to win audiences who were born decades after it was made. Sooner or later, usually before they are 21, everyone sees "Casablanca." And then it becomes their favorite movie.

It is The Movie.

Today, Monday, April 14, 2014, at 5 p.m Eastern Time (2 p.m. PT), as part of its 20th anniversary celebration, TCM will present “Casablanca” for the 126th time on its air. It's just one of 8,719 feature movies that TCM tells me they have shown uncut and without commercials since the channel debuted in 1994.

From all of us movie buffs to everyone at TCM, thank you from the bottom of our hearts.

It’s been a beautiful relationship, indeed.



[Besides being a big fan of "Casablanca," Chuck Ross also used the script of the movie as the basis for one of the most famous experiments in the history of Hollywood. Please click here to read that piece.]

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When It Comes to Mickey Rooney, I'm With Marlon Brando: Rooney Was Underrated. Here's Why

Chuck Ross Posted April 7, 2014 at 3:36 AM

Marlon Brando, who knew something about acting, wrote in his 1994 autobiography, “Brando: Songs My Mother Taught Me”: “As I’ve observed before, acting talent alone doesn’t make an actor a star. It takes a combination of qualities: looks, personality, presence, ability. Like Tallulah Bankhead, Greta Garbo wasn’t much of an actress, but she had presence. She probably played the same character in every film she ever made, but she was beautiful and had an unusual personality.

“Mickey Rooney, on the other hand, is an unsung hero of the actors’ world. He never become a leading man -- he was too short, his teeth weren’t straight and he didn’t have sex appeal. But like Jimmy Cagney, he could do almost anything.”

The late James Agee, who may have been the toughest movie critic I have ever read -- when he was writing columns about the movies for The Nation magazine in the 1940s -- wrote this in 1944: “I am quite sure about Mickey Rooney: He is an extremely wise and moving actor, and if I am ever again tempted to speak disrespectfully of him, that will be in anger over the unforgivable waste of a forceful yet subtle talent, proved capable of self-discipline and of the hardest roles …”

Four years later, in 1948, Agee wrote about “Killer McCoy,” which was Rooney’s first adult role. Rooney plays the "Killer" of the title, a boxer. Agee said he found the film “almost … likable,” though he also said it was “a harmless, worthless movie about prize-fighting” -- I told you Agee was tough. However, about Rooney’s role in “Killer McCoy,” Agee nailed it when he called it “a coolly magical performance.”

The late director John Frankenheimer worked with some of the finest actors ever, from Burt Lancaster to Robert De Niro, from Frederic March to Robert Ryan. Yet it was of Rooney that Frankenheimer said he was “the best actor I ever worked with.”

Frankenheimer was specifically talking about Rooney’s performance in a classic 1957 “Playhouse 90” program titled ‘The Comedian.” The teleplay was by Rod Sterling, who adapted an original story by Ernest Lehman. Rooney played the title role, a comic named Sammy Hogarth, for which he was nominated for an Emmy. Rooney’s kinetic, manic portrayal is spot on, as in his mania we fully understand both his cruelty and his insecurity.

The critic David Thomson, in the 2002 version of his “New Biographical Dictionary of Film,” writes about the actor, “Do we laugh or cry for Rooney? ... Mickey Rooney is important, and yet he is ridiculous … .”

I think a lot of people have thought that about Rooney, though, most probably, few have even thought of him at all in recent years. Rooney died yesterday, April 6, 2014, at the age of 93. I must add, I was a fan, and, like Brando, always thought Rooney was underrated. No doubt that was because of the many “Andy Hardy” movies Rooney made at MGM in the late 1930s and early 1940s. And while Brando says Rooney never became a “leading man” in the same sense as a Clark Gable or a Gary Cooper, during Rooney’s heyday at MGM he was “one of the most popular stars in the world,” as Thomson notes.

Thomson cites three of Rooney’s performances in particular that show him off “not just [as] an actor of genius, but an artist able to maintain a stylized commentary on the demon impulse of the small, belligerent man," Thomson writes. Those three performances are as Puck in the 1935 version of “A Midsummer’s Night Dream,” as Whitely Marsh in “Boy’s Town” (1938), and as the title character in the 1957 cult favorite “Baby Face Nelson.”

baby_face_nelson_xlg.jpgThat last is one of my Rooney favorites, as is the noirish “Quicksand” from 1950, which you can watch on YouTube.

In a later role, his Oscar-nominated performance in “The Black Stallion,” Rooney is superb. That family film, by the way -- one of the most stunningly photographed movies of the late 1970s -- just came out on Blu-ray last month.

Another must-see Rooney performance is as a horse jockey named Grady in “The Last Night of a Jockey,” which was first shown in the fifth and final season of “The Twilight Zone” in 1963. [Update at 11 a.m., PT on 4-7-2014. Me-TV has announced that as a tribute to Rooney it will be showing this episode of "The Twilight Zone" tonight at 11 p.m. ET/PT, 10 p.m. CT.]

I want to end with this anecdote about Rooney that I have told before. I first read about it in the 2005 autobiography of producer William Froug, tiled "How I Escaped from 'Gilligan's Island': Adventures of a Hollywood Writer-Producer." Froug produced the “Twilight Zone” episode that starred Rooney. 

And Froug produced an earlier program that starred Rooney. The year was 1958, and Froug was producing shows for the half-hour drama anthology series "Alcoa Goodyear Theatre." He received an unusual script -- a show that consisted of a single monologue. Froug loved the script, titled "Eddie." It was about a gambler who had to raise money to pay off his debts by a certain hour, or he was going to be killed. Immediately, Froug thought of one actor to play the part: Mickey Rooney.

Here is some of what Froug wrote about "Eddie" in his autobiography:

"As it turned out, Rooney could have directed himself. [As the cameras rolled] I could only stare with amazement as this superb actor picked up the prop phone and instantly became Eddie, making his desperate pitch to his customers, his brother, and finally his mother; a lonely, isolated man pleading for his life. With no actor to play against, it was a virtuoso performance. Rooney's face broke out in sweat, his eyes searching the tiny apartment as if seeking divine intervention. Mickey Rooney's performance defined talent. He was even better than I had imagined. ... When we finished shooting after a little more than two days, the entire crew gave Rooney a richly deserved standing ovation."

Froug continues: "When the print was edited we showed the rough cut to a few Screen Gems executives. They came out of the projection room with raves. 'It's an Emmy for Rooney, no doubt about it,' was the consensus. You could feel the excitement around the Screen Gems offices. We had something special."

Finally it was time for the Emmys to be presented. The show itself won. Froug writes, "It turned out to be 'Eddie's' night. Jack Smight won as best director, and Al Brenner won one for adapting Kenneth Hughes' script."

Rooney was up against five other actors in the category Best Single Performance of the Year. The previous year he had been nominated in the same category for his role in “The Comedian.”

Competing against Rooney in “Eddie” were Rod Steiger, Christopher Plummer, Paul Muni and Robert Crawford Jr.. All were nominated for their performances playing characters in various other drama anthologies. The other nominee was Fred Astaire, who was up for playing himself singing and dancing in his TV special "An Evening with Fred Astaire." Astaire won the Emmy.

Froug writes: "Entering the men's room at the Earl Carroll Theater [in Hollywood] after the ceremonies were over, I discovered Rooney at the sink, staring at his image in the mirror. 'Fuck 'em!' he yelled. 'Fuck 'em all! Who needs the bastards!' He turned away from the sink and staggered drunkenly out the door, barely able to navigate. Who could blame him?"

It would be almost 25 years later before Rooney would finally pick up an Emmy for Best Actor. It was for his role in the now-classic 1982 TV movie “Bill,’’ wherein Rooney played a man with a serious intellectual disability.

Here’s a copy of a very good quality kinescope of “The Comedian” that was first presented on “Playhouse 90” on Feb. 14, 1957. We found it on YouTube, where it’s been up for almost two years. There is so much movement in the show it's hard to believe that this performance was broadcast live, and not on tape. When you have 90 minutes free to watch it, I urge you to do so. It’s a performance in which Rooney gets the last laugh.

With One Season Left, the 'Mad Men' Cast Share Their Favorite Moments From the Ground-Breaking Series About Madison Ave.

Hillary Atkin Posted March 25, 2014 at 1:26 PM

Think back to 2007, when AMC was a cable channel known for playing old movies. And then along came “Mad Men,” the 1960s era drama series that ushered in a whole new age of original programming for the basic cabler -- and became a show that was quickly embraced by critics and viewers and lauded with dozens of awards.

Memories of that time were front and center as the cast of "Mad Men" took the stage at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood Friday night as part of the 31st PaleyFest. They were introduced by creator Matt Weiner for a panel moderated by TV Guide’s Michael Schneider, who brought out Jon Hamm, Vincent Kartheiser, Elisabeth Moss, Christina Hendricks, Jessica Paré, Kiernan Shipka and Robert Morse.

After a screening of the season six finale that ended with Don Draper getting booted from his ad agency and showing his children the whorehouse where he grew up, cast members revealed their feelings about the upcoming final season, which will air in two parts, with a seven-episode run premiering April 13 and the final seven to air starting in the spring of 2015.

"We're in some stage of grief. The end is coming and there’s no way to prepare for it, but we will have as much fun as we’ve had. Saying goodbye is part of life," said Hamm.

"It's terrible," added Paré, the newest cast member of the group, who plays Don Draper’s wife, Megan. "Horrible. I don't want it to ever be over. I think I cry every day about the show's end.”

"I probably started being emotional earlier than everyone," admitted Hendricks. "I'm already grieving. I'm just bracing myself -- we're all just savoring every second and appreciating every moment."

"I've been on the show longer than I haven't," said 14-year-old Shipka, who was just 7 years old when the show premiered, "which is weird to think about but it's true."

As for what will happen to the characters, even if they know, they’re not saying. Their fate lies in Weiner’s hands and he’s always been known to insist on secrecy.

Hamm, who is also a producer, said Weiner may have figured out the ending between seasons four and five, after it was very clear that “Mad Men” had made it through all the uncertainty to get renewed up until that point. He noted that after shooting the pilot, everyone had major doubts about whether the show would even get picked up.

Now, fans analyze every scene and even promos to try to figure out what’s coming up for Draper and the co-workers he left behind at Sterling Cooper & Partners on Madison Avenue.

"The way the show tells the story and doles out information is very oblique," Hamm admitted. "People tend to start trying to fill in the blanks in an attempt to get ahead of the story."

With Draper’s drinking apparently out of control and his marriage on the line, the one constant in his life has been his successful career as an ad man. "He could always go to work. Now work is not there,” said Hamm. “That's going to be a big hurdle for him to have to get over somehow. If there's one overriding principle about Don, he's a survivor and generally rises to the challenges."

The show has fomented other mysteries recently, such as the character of Bob Benson (James Wolk), who became a close friend of Joan’s -- to Roger’s displeasure -- and a noteworthy rival to Pete Campbell, sparking an Internet obsession and some wild theories.

"Who is this guy (besides) two coffees and a lot of words?" Hamm said of Benson’s early appearances. "It's a tremendous compliment that people want to know." He then shouted out a YouTube video using “Mad Men” characters set to the opening theme of the 1980s ABC sitcom “Benson” starring Robert Guillaume. “It’s 45 seconds of your life but you’ll watch it ten times. It is amazing.”

Moss came in for some ribbing from the panel -- and much applause from the audience -- when Schneider displayed the March 10 cover of New York Magazine with the headline “Elisabeth Moss Has Been the Star of Mad Men All Along.”

Moss reflected on one of her noteworthy lines, “It must be nice to have choices,” said in response to her married lover and boss, Ted Chaough, telling her character he’s not going to leave his wife and that the family will be decamping to California, because he loves her so much he can’t be around her.

"I think her story is one of finding out who she is. Her battle all along is trying to figure out, should she be Don? Should she be Joan? She's finally asking the right question: Who am I?," she said of Peggy Olson. “She’s optimistic and believes in love. Ted didn’t intend to mislead her.”

As for Joan, she too is "gauging where her strengths are," said Hendricks, balancing her career and family and the role that her son’s father Roger Sterling (John Slattery) will play. Because of her "deep feelings and a lot of history" with Roger, Joan is "keeping an open mind to the possibilities" of a "more modern situation."

We last saw Megan grappling with Don’s about-face regarding moving to Los Angeles. “Feminism is bulling up and she feels that she can have everything,” Paré said. “Don wants it too but it’s not as easy for him to flip the switch.”

When it was time for the PaleyFest audience to ask questions, one audience member commented on the role that silence played, which resulted in a tense stare-down between Hamm and Schneider, with monitors showing close-ups of their faces as the laughter escalated. For the record, Schneider claimed victory when Hamm finally cracked a smile.

Another audience member asked about the possible return of Sal Romano, the former art director who last appeared in season three. Hamm responded with a laugh, "Well, he's not dead, as far as I know. I certainly wouldn't rule it out, but it isn't up to me. But these characters live in New York and can run into each other."

Kartheiser was asked about the physical changes in Campbell, particularly his receding hairline. “My hair and makeup went from 15 minutes to an hour and 45 minutes,” he said. “Balding plays into his psyche and the aging process. I once had a dream that Pete Campbell was looking at me through a window, and it was scary.”

Each of the actors was questioned about their favorite “Mad Men” moments.

“It was the first day of shooting, after the rehearsing and meeting all the people and seeing the set. I was terrified and exhilarated,” said Hamm.

“In season one, Pete had been cocky and chased Don down a hallway. That aspect of his character stuck out and was the first of many layers I’ve tried to portray,” Kartheiser said.

“After we shot the pilot and we were all looking out at the New York skyline on the rooftop of Silvercup Studios I thought, ‘Wow, that was wonderful.’ It was a simple, honest moment that I look back on with fondness. It was very special,” said Moss.

“This script with my storyline revealing things about Joan was so much fun. I started to get to know her and I remember that feeling,” Hendricks said.

“My favorite was when Pete ran in and said, ‘Don is a fraud.’ I looked right in his face and said, ‘Who cares?,’” Morse recalled.

“The finale of season four when they said they needed to measure my ring finger. I was like, yes, yes, yes,” said Paré, with great gusto.

“It was when my grandfather said that she [Sally] could do anything, and then when he passes away, that was a standout,” Shipka remarked.

Asked whether the cast talked to people who worked on Madison Avenue during the 1960s, Hamm replied, “Half of them say none of that happened. The other half say yep, all that happened. Maybe the other half didn’t get invited to the parties.”

And so the “Mad Men” party rolls on, much to the delight of everyone involved.

Warren Buffett and Quicken Loans Anticipated Up to 15 Million People Would Enter Their Billion Dollar March Madness Basketball Challenge. Was the Real Number of Entries Millions Fewer?

Chuck Ross Posted March 24, 2014 at 3:04 AM

A widely distributed sports report by the Associated Press last Friday, March 21, 2014, began “The billion dollar dream is over.

“A second day of upsets ended any chance of someone having a perfect NCAA tournament bracket in Warren Buffett’s $1 billion challenge.”

The story also had this paragraph: “Quicken Loans, which is sponsoring … the contest, said on its Twitter feed that it wouldn’t reveal the number of entrants to the challenge. The pool was supposed to be capped at 15 million entries. It probably wouldn’t have mattered if they had let more people join.”

Given that last line, it seems to me that the implication in the story is that most likely the contest, which asked entrants to pick the winners of all 63 games in the current, ongoing men’s college basketball tournament -- popularly known as March Madness -- pulled in close to the capped number of entries, which was 15 million.

Adding to that perception is that fact that ESPN, which also runs a bracket for March Madness -- for which the winner can win a $10,000 gift card -- is transparent about the number of entries it receives. This year that number was about 11 million.

If ESPN, offering only a “paltry” ten grand, got 11 million entries, certainly the Buffett Bracket, with its promise of $1 billion for a perfect entry, must have reached its goal of 15 million entries, one would think.

Plus, even if one didn’t pick a perfect bracket, the Buffett-Quicken Loans team says it will give $100,000 to each of 20 people who entered brackets with the top 20 scores. And since, like the ESPN contest, the Buffett-Quicken Loans contest costs nothing to enter, surely reaching 15 million entries sounded reasonable.

In fact, such was the anticipation of the success of this promotional contest, that after the challenge was first announced in January, the number of entries the Buffett-Quicken Loans team would accept was upped from 10 million to 15 million. They also changed the rules to allow one entry per person, as opposed to one entry per household.

Shockingly, my guess is that there were only about 2.5 million entries for the Buffett Bracket. By the way, in the ESPN contest, one person can submit up to 10 entries. So while ESPN had about 11 million entries, we don’t know exactly how many individual people that represents. In the Buffett Bracket, it was only one entry per person. So 2.5 million entries would also mean 2.5 million people entered. Not a small number, but nothing close to 15 million.

I only say “guess” because when I asked Quicken Loans to confirm my number, a press spokesperson emailed me last night, Sunday, March 23, 2014, writing: “We are not disclosing the number of entrants in the Billion Dollar Bracket challenge.” I will now explain how I arrived at my number, and please let me know if you find my evidence compelling.

When I signed up for the Buffett Bracket on Yahoo Sports, which is hosting the contest, I finally came to a screen that said before I could fill out my bracket choices I had to respond to an email that had supposedly been sent to my email address. When I checked my email, it was not there. Fortunately, there was a “resend” button on the Yahoo screen. And I clicked on it. And I waited. Nothing in my email. I had to do this several times, over a number of hours (and, as I recall, actually over a few days) before I finally received the email. I clicked on the appropriate “Verify Email” button in that email they had sent me, and it was smooth sailing from then on.

Next, my wife decided she wanted to enter the contest as well. She had the same trouble I had getting the initial email that would, in turn, let her verify her email address and start filling out her bracket. Like me, she was finally successful. Unfortunately, her verification didn’t come through until March 19, and by the time she actually went to fill out her bracket, it was after the deadline -- which was March 20 at 1 a.m. ET.

Despite the fact my wife had missed the deadline to fill out her bracket, she had made the deadline to be in the contest. So in every slot on her bracket, in red, the word “none” was automatically filled in by the Buffett Bracket program, indicating no team had been selected. And as the games started being played and finished in the tourney, at the top of her entry it would say 0/1, 0/2, 0/3, etc., with the second number being the number of games having been played.

Now, at this moment, as we await the tournament to continue next week, my bracket, “Charles’s Crazy Bracket” (name chosen by the Buffett Bracket program, not me), shows on the top, where it says “Correct Picks,” 34/48, which means out of the 48 games played so far, I’ve picked 34 correctly. Next to that it says “Pools” and “Quicken Loans Billion.” Click on that and it says my ranking in the Quicken Loans Billion Dollar Bracket Challenge Pool is 730,031.

It also says that my ranking in the My Tourney Pick’em Bracket is 1,444,746. The Tourney Pick’em Bracket is what Yahoo Sports has long called its free contest for users who want to fill out brackets for the men’s college basketball tournament. If you entered the Buffett Bracket you automatically got entered into the Tourney Pick’em Bracket as well. And, like ESPN’s contest, each person can enter ten brackets in the Tourney Pick’em contest.

Given the rankings, we now know that I’m either in 730,031st place by myself, or tied for that place, in the Buffett Bracket contest. And in the Yahoo Tourney contest I’m in 1,444,746th place by myself or tied for that place.

What we don’t know, however, is out of how many total places, or entries, those ranking are for. In other words, am I in 730,031st place out of one million total places or out of 10 million total places?

That’s where my wife’s bracket comes into play. Because she didn’t get to fill it out with various team names, each game shows up as a loss. So at the top of her bracket right now it says she is 0/48. (Okay, you’re smiling because you’re one step ahead of me here, but let me finish.)

Click on her rankings and here is what it says: In the Quicken Loans Billion Dollar Bracket Challenge Pool, she is in 2,477,374th place, or tied for that place. And in the Yahoo Tourney Pick’em she is listed in 4,844,054th place, or tied for that place.

Now here’s the “Eureka!” moment: Because she has no wins, she has to be either in last place alone or tied for last place. Either that or Yahoo is lying to us about the rankings.

Thus, figuring that my wife is tied for last place, I’m going to say that there are about 2.5 million entries to the Buffett Bracket, aka the Quicken Loans Billion Dollar Bracket Challenge.

And I’m also going to say that then there are about 5 million entries in the Yahoo Tourney Pick’em contest.

The Quicken Loans folks won’t say how many are in its contest. As for the Yahoo contest, I found an article on the Yahoo website that said last year there were about 3 million entries in its Tourney Pick’em contest. That there were then about 5 million entries to that contest this year seems right, when one adds in the Buffett Bracket entries and figures that there is some duplication with people who would have entered the Yahoo contest even if there hadn’t been the Buffett contest.

In an article published ten days ago on by the award-winning sports writer Rick Reilly, Reilly spoke to both Buffett and Dan Gilbert, who owns both Quicken Loans and the Cleveland Cavaliers professional basketball team.

Wrote Reilly: “Gilbert stands to gain as many as 15 million new sales leads with the registration process alone on this thing. ‘You can't buy that kind of PR,’ Gilbert says. ‘We love this.'"

I wonder if he’s loving it less if the real number is closer to 2.5 million.

In the piece Reilly also talks about Buffett’s insuring the billion dollars that Quicken would have to pay out for a perfect bracket:

“Buffett's National Indemnity Company is taking the risk on the Quicken Loans Billion Dollar Bracket Challenge. If you win, you can take $25 million a year for 40 years or a $500 million check right away. But Buffett is betting you won't. He wrote the policy himself.

" 'I just sat right in that chair,' he says, pointing to his packed little office, 'and I did the calculations. Took me about 10 or 15 minutes. I hope I did it right.'"

Later in the piece Reilly adds, "Buffett won't reveal what he charged Quicken for the premium, but I took a shot. I knew the lowest odds quoted for a perfect bracket were from Duke professor Ezra Miller, who estimates a skilled handicapper has about a billion-to-1 chance. Buffett, naturally, would quote the lowest possible odds so as to keep everything in his favor. So, if Buffett were insuring against one person doing it, at a billion-to-1 odds, he would charge about $1. But, because 15 million people are expected to try, it should be about $15 million, tops.

“[Buffett] and his twinkle and his lopsided haircut paused. And then he said, 'You're good, but I'm not saying.'"

If only about 2.5 million people entered the Buffett Bracket challenge, does that mean Buffett’s National Indemnity made $2.5 million instead of an anticipated $15 million?

The idea for this Buffett Bracket came from Buffett, who then found Quicken Loans to work with as a partner. The contest is a lot of fun, and it certainly caught the imagination of many. Maybe next year, with more publicity and a smoother-working system on Yahoo -- or another tech partner -- the registration can go a lot easier and a lot more people will sign up to participate. Because the more people that participate the greater the chance that someone will actually pick a perfect bracket -- small as that possibility is.

And Mr. Buffett, please, next year a little more transparency. Make public the number of people who are playing. That’s part of the fun.

[Please let me know what you think about my piece. Because of security issues, we recently had to shut down the ability for readers to leave comments about our stories. We are working to fix that. Meanwhile, please feel free to send me your comments via email at Just write “bracket” in the subject line. I will post any comments here, as long as they are appropriate -- no swearing, etc. -- regardless of whether they reflect favorably or not about what I’ve written.]

Judd Apatow -- One of Hollywood's Most Successful Creators of Comedy -- Says His Primary Motivation Is a TV Series He Did that Was Canceled After One Season

Hillary Atkin Posted March 17, 2014 at 1:51 PM

Nearly every television producer working today has a sad story about the one that got away – the passion project that made it to air but after usually a very short period of time was axed, justifiably or not, by the network. This scenario is one that can rankle creators years, or even decades, later.

For Judd Apatow, that show was “Freaks and Geeks,” which ran on NBC in the 1999-2000 season and was canceled after 18 episodes, but has since gained cult status -- and remains very near and dear to his heart.

As the acclaimed writer/producer/director was honored last week with the PaleyFest Icon Award at the Paley Center in Beverly Hills for his artistic contributions to television, he made a startling admission.

“Everything I’ve done in a way is revenge for the people who canceled ‘Freaks and Geeks,’ Apatow said near the end of a celebration honoring his creative contributions to television, which also include “The Ben Stiller Show,” “The Larry Sanders Show," “Undeclared” and, currently, “Girls.” “It’s like, ‘You were wrong about that person and that writer and that director.’ I guess I should get over that,” Apatow said.

Before “Girls,” Apatow had not worked actively in television for more than a decade -- apparently a little bitter about how “Undeclared,” what he called the college version of “Freaks,” was also canceled after less than a full season, just 17 episodes.

Oh, and he was just a little occupied with films including “The 40-Year-Old Virgin, “Superbad,” “Knocked Up,” “ Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” “Get Him to the Greek,“ “Pineapple Express,” “This Is 40” and “Bridesmaids.”

“TV is 1,000 times harder than film,” Apatow said at the ceremony for his Icon Award -- only the second one given. (Last year’s, the inaugural of the honor, went to Ryan Murphy.)

It was a unique presentation, a trip down memory lane, tour-guided by “Entertainment Weekly’s” Dan Snierson, with many of the key players in his career speaking out from the audience, telling anecdotes about their experiences with Apatow and on his shows.

Apatow's wife, actress Leslie Mann, and their daughter Iris Apatow were in the front row to cheer him on.

After an introduction from Paley Center for Media CEO Pat Mitchell, Roseanne Barr took the podium. “I discovered Judd,” she told the packed house, and praised his “humanistic” ability to weave a story so well, with an eye for sensitivity. “Plus, it’s pee-your-pants funny,” she said.

After working with Roseanne and her then-husband Tom Arnold, Apatow got a big break when Garry Shandling asked him to write jokes when Shandling was called to be host of the Grammy Awards in the early 1990s.

“I wrote 100 jokes for him but it was right around the time of the first Iraq war and he didn’t use any of them. But it spurred him to think of his own bits, so I basically wrote a hundred setups for him.”

Shandling, who was in the packed theater and reminisced and cracked jokes with Apatow, gave him a job on his vaunted HBO program, “The Larry Sanders Show.”

A 20-plus-year-old clip was played that was especially resonant. It showed Larry -- after consulting with his producers -- with Ellen DeGeneres riffing on whether she was going to come out as gay on his fictional talk show -- a bit that ended in them passionately kissing and leaving the question of her sexuality up to the viewer to decide, and Larry’s producers in confusion.

“I learned almost everything I know from Garry,” Apatow said, noting that his good experience then with HBO led to his returning to the pay cabler’s fold with Lena Dunham for “Girls.” He got in touch with Dunham after seeing her indie film “Tiny Furniture” with his wife and offered to work with her. Apatow said the deal to return to TV was sweetened when it turned out that Jennifer Konner, with whom he had worked on “Undeclared,” was the executive producer.

As for his early influences, Apatow shouted out Paul Reiser’s performance in the 1982 Barry Levinson film “Diner,” because some of his lines were ad-libbed. “Oh my God, you can get a job on a movie when [you have] funny things to say?” Apatow said he was also inspired by Dave Eggers' book “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius” because of its honesty and vulnerability.

Those are qualities that have marked Apatow’s work in both television and film. And although they are usually cloaked in humor and emanate from the man-children that many of his characters embody, he also has a traditional romantic side -- as epitomized in the finale of “Girls” last season, when a shirtless Adam rushes to the rescue of Hannah through the streets of New York, to the accompaniment of a soaring score.

It should also be noted that “Girls” is now one of Apatow’s longest-running shows, having been renewed for a fourth season.

Asked by Snierson which show he would like to write for if given the opportunity, Apatow consulted with his wife and answered “The Americans.” And then, perhaps not as surprisingly, “Switched at Birth” and “The Fosters.”

(The 31st PaleyFest runs through March 28 in Hollywood. All of the panels will be live streamed at

Possessing 'the Fascination of Rattlesnakes Courting in a Bathtub.' Two Must-See Movies on TV Tonight

Chuck Ross Posted February 26, 2014 at 11:59 AM

Watching the first episode of the return of “House of Cards” reminded me of a review I read recently that said watching certain characters on the screen possesses “the fascination of rattlesnakes courting in a bathtub."

But the review was not about “House of Cards.” It was written by an uncredited movie reviewer in Time magazine about “The Little Foxes,” a movie from 1941 that collected nine Academy Award nominations, including “Best Picture.” It didn’t win that major award, but neither did the real best picture of 1941, “Citizen Kane.”

But like “Kane” all these years later, “The Little Foxes,” with a screenplay by Lillian Hellman (with help from Dorothy Parker, Alan Campbell and Arthur Kober, and based on Hellman’s play), still packs a wallop. And I am not comparing the greatness of “Kane” to “The Little Foxes.” But as the New York Times movie critic Bosley Crowther wrote at the time, “The Little Foxes” is a “most bitingly sinister picture” and “one of the most cruelly realistic character studies yet shown on the screen.”

The latter is thanks to Miss Bette Davis, who I think is one of the true acting geniuses in the history of movies.

“The Little Foxes’ is available on DVD, but not for streaming by either Netflix or Amazon. However, if you get TCM (Turner Classic Movies), you can either watch it or record it tonight, Feb. 26, 2014 -- without commercial interruption. It’s on TCM at 10 p.m. ET (and 7 p.m. PT).

As we eagerly await this year’s Oscar celebration this weekend, watching "The Little Foxes” is a good warmup. The plot of the movie takes place in 1900 and revolves around the slave trade and the exploitation of slaves. But as Steve McQueen, the director of this year’s “12 Years a Slave,” has noted, many old Hollywood movies don’t realistically portray the horrors of slavery.

In this sense, “The Little Foxes” is more like another of this year’s nominees, "The Wolf of Wall Street,” in that it’s all about those who are doing the exploiting, with nary a nod to the pain and suffering of those exploited.

But unlike “The Wolf of Wall Street,” “The Little Foxes” is a piercing, stinging drama of piranhas tearing the surface flesh off one another, leaving only the raw, exposed nerves dangling, like live electric transmission wires that have tangled and touched, exploding.

It was a tough production. At the helm of the film was director William Wyler. Davis had worked with him twice before, making “Jezebel, and “The Letter,” and she believed he drew out the best in her.

But in making “The Little Foxes” they fought more than they ever had. Wyler insisted that Davis see Tallulah Bankhead, who was playing the lead in “The Little Foxes” on Broadway.

According to Gabriel Miller’s 2013 book about Wyler, “The Life and Films of Hollywood’s Most Celebrated Director,” “Davis felt that Bankhead portrayed [the character] as a cold, greedy, conniving and evil woman -- an interpretation that made sense to her. Wyler, however, wanted a more shaded portrayal of [the character] as both funny and charming as well … .”

Miller then writes, “Finally, two weeks after shooting started, Davis walked off the set and went to Laguna Beach, where she had rented a house. ‘I was a nervous wreck,' she said. 'My favorite and most admired director was fighting me every inch of the way. I just didn’t want to continue.’”

Though Davis notoriously fought Jack Warner at Warner Bros. and refused to be in some pictures, she said this was the first time she had actually walked off a set and refused to work on a picture she had already began.

Miller continues, “[Producer Sam] Goldwyn implored her to return to the ['Little Foxes' set], but she adamantly refused. He then allowed her to take some time off, from May 12 to May 21. … Wyler was able to shoot around her. Rumors abounded in the press, and there was speculation that Davis was ill or pregnant. There were also rumors that she was going to be replaced by either [Davis rival] Miriam Hopkins or Katharine Hepburn. … Davis finally returned to the set on June 2, but she refused to accede to Wyler’s demands, and he was forced to accept her interpretation of the role.”

Wyler and Davis “never worked together again.”

That’s too bad, because their work together was indeed stellar.

On “The Little Foxes,” outside of Davis and Herbert Marshall, who plays her husband, Horace, most of the cast came from the original stage production of “The Little Foxes” and had never been in a major movie before. That includes Patricia Collinge, who plays Davis’ sister-in-law, Birdie, Charles Dingle (Ben), Carl Benton Reid (Oscar) and Dan Duryea (Leo). Duryea went on to have a terrific career in B-movie film noirs.

the little foxes.jpgPeter McNally, in his 2008 book “Bette Davis: The Performances That Made Her Great,” talks about Davis performing with the original cast members of “The Little Foxes” in the film: “Because Davis was the consummate actress, she played well with the other Broadway actors. Tellingly, her character dominates the others, including her brothers. Davis had a star quality that none of her co-stars had; they were not Hollywood stars at all. So she not only became part of the ensemble, she added dramatic weight to the scenes in which she played. … With the ensemble approach, Davis not only blended in, but she did so without mannerism or upstaging. Her very stillness, at times, drew the audience to her character. She was the complex one, not the others. Gregg Toland’s deep-focus photography allowed one to see an entire scene in all its detail."

McNally then quotes Foster Hirsh in “Acting Hollywood Style”: “[W]ith few close-ups and forced to share the spotlight, Davis internalizes the character’s rage and her own … she gives a tight, brittle, murderously subdued performance.”

Interestingly, the other film Toland had shot earlier in 1941, most famously, was “Citizen Kane.”

But a year before, in 1940, Toland, who had shot “Wuthering Heights’ for Wyler and producer Goldwyn in 1939, was getting ready to shoot another Wyler film, this time at Twentieth Century Fox. The movie was going to be called “How Green Was My Valley,” based on a 1939 bestseller by Richard Llewellyn.

Early in 1940 the head of Twentieth Century Fox, Darryl F. Zanuck, had sent over to Philip Dunne, one of Twentieth’s hottest scriptwriters, a script of “How Green Was My Valley.”

In his 1980 memoir, “Take Two: A Life in Movies and Politics,” Dunne writes, “The script was long, turgid, and ugly, its central feature figure being an equally long, turgid, and ugly strike in a Welsh coal mine. A great part of the dialogue consisted of speeches and diatribes, pro- and anti-labor. The family which was the center of the script’s plot was torn apart by dissension and mutual hatred, and the overriding mood of the script was deeply depressing. I sent the script back to Zanuck with a note saying not only that I hoped I could be spared the assignment of rewriting it, but that I wondered what had persuaded him to buy the book in the first place.”

I mention “How Green Was My Valley” because it is the movie that beat out both “The Little Foxes” and “Citizen Kane,” among others, to win the Best Picture Oscar for 1941. Though certainly not as ground-breaking as “Kane,” it’s a wonderful movie that I highly recommend. As it happens, TCM is also showing it tonight, after “The Little Foxes,” at 12:15 a.m. ET, which is 9:15 p.m. here on the West Coast. It’s also available to stream from Amazon, but not from Netflix. And it’s available on DVD and Blu-ray.

After Dunne sent his note to Zanuck, Zanuck simply had delivered to Dunne’s Fox office a copy of the novel. Dunne discovered that the initial adapters had missed the essence of the book. Dunne wrote that the book “was full of warmth, love, nobility and earthy humor. It was above all, the story of a family -- strong, proud, loving and self-reliant …”

After Dunne finished his first draft, Zanuck said that he had hired Wyler to direct the picture, and suggested that Dunne and Wyler work together on a final draft. That pleased Dunne, since he and Wyler were friends.

Zanuck OK’d the final script and, Dunne writes, “Gregg Toland was assigned as cameraman and our Welsh village and mine went up on the studio’s ranch in the hills behind Malibu. We originally had intended to shoot on location in Wales itself, but with Britain at war in 1940, this was impossible.”

As casting began, Dunne writes, "the axe fell. [Fox’s] New York office, showing its usual impeccable taste, hated the script, hated the absence of real starring roles, hated Wyler’s reputation as an extravagant director, predicted disaster for the entire project, and refused to put up the money for it.”

A furious Zanuck endeared himself to Dunne forever, Dunne says, by writing “a defiant letter to New York saying that this was the finest script he had ever had, and that some day he would find a way to make this picture, even if he had to take it to another studio.”

A few month later, Dunne writes, director John Ford, who loved the script, “agreed to bring in the picture for a million dollars, and on that basis New York had told Zanuck he could go ahead.”

Dunne says that Irishman Ford, "with only a few minor changes, faithfully and brilliantly shot the script that Wyler, Zanuck and I prepared.”

Then Dunne writes, “I often have wondered what ‘How Green Was My Valley' would have been like had Wyler directed it instead of Ford. There would have been differences, of course, completely different camera angles, different emphases, different shadings in the performances. But these differences wouldn’t have been much greater than the differences you might detect if you listened to Jascha Heifetz play Beethoven’s Violin concerto and then to … Yehudi Menuhim play the same work. In all the performing arts, individual interpretation is important, but never as important as the basic material.”

At the Oscar ceremony that year, Dunne writes, “ ‘How Green Was My Valley’ swept the board: best picture, best director, best supporting actor (there were no starring parts), best photography and art direction -- in fact, best-just-about-everything except best screenplay.”

That prize was won by “Here Comes Mr. Jordan.”

Several months later, both Dunne and Ford found themselves in Washington, D.C., working for Uncle Sam.

Dunne noticed an award on Ford’s desk, from the New York film critics, also honoring him as the best director of 1941. Dunne complimented him, and Ford dismissed the compliment. Dunne writes, “ 'I said, perhaps a little bitterly … that I would have loved to have gotten more out of the picture than just my salary.'

“ ‘You greedy bastard,’ he said, ‘you got the Oscar. What more do you want?’

“When I told him I hadn’t won the Oscar he was silent for a moment, I think really shaken, and then said, ‘Ah, the ballots were probably counted by Republicans. Come on out and have a drink.’

"I thought that was the end of it, but two days later his New York Film Critics Award arrived in my mail. On it he had scrawled in red crayon: ‘Thanks, Phil. Affection, Jack.’”


Costume Designers on Top TV and Film Productions Get a Chance to Shine

Hillary Atkin Posted February 26, 2014 at 7:25 AM

It was another big night for TV darlings “House of Cards,” “Behind the Candelabra” and “Downton Abbey” as their respective costume designers, Tom Broecker, Ellen Mirojnick and Caroline McCall took the top prizes at the 16th Costume Designers Guild Awards.

Held Saturday night, Feb. 22, at the Beverly Hilton, in ceremonies hosted by “Scandal’s” Joshua Malina, it’s the gala evening when costume designers in television, film and commercials get the glory for dressing actors who wear their creations in an event known for its relaxed yet festive atmosphere -- and one in which the definition of “black tie” is stretched to its creative limit.

The jokes are also flowing -- “I’m a 33-inch waist and a 30-inch inseam. Don’t judge,” Malina said in his welcoming remarks, which underscored the integral part costume design plays in storytelling.

Beginning with a clip reel of the year in design, it was easy to appreciate the range of artistry and historical eras brought vividly to the screen in shows including "Bonnie and Clyde,” ”Breaking Bad,” “Boardwalk Empire," “Scandal,” “Nashville” and "Mad Men" and films including "Her," "Blue Jasmine,” “American Hustle," "Philomena," "The Butler” and "The Great Gatsby” that were showcased.

The first award of the night set the bar for excellence, with Mirojnick’s win for HBO’s made-for-television movie “Behind the Candelabra.” Fittingly, in the spirit of the project, she wore a gold sequined cocktail dress and a bracelet with a Liberace charm on it.

In the contemporary television series category, it was Broecker and ”House of Cards” that triumphed over other worthy contenders “Saturday Night Live” -- for which Broecker was also a nominee -- “Nashville,” “Scandal” and “Breaking Bad.”

In the period/fantasy television series category, the costumes of “Downton” took the prize over entries from "Game of Thrones," "Boardwalk Empire," “The Borgias” and “Mad Men.”

On the big screen, Patricia Norris for “12 Years a Slave,” Trish Summerville for “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” and Suzy Benzinger for “Blue Jasmine” were awarded the trophies.

Benzinger’s acceptance speech was notable for the time she took lauding director Woody Allen, with whom she has collaborated for 20 years on a series of his films. “He’s fair, honest and taught me that work is the real reward. Even with all the accolades, we all feel lucky working with him. I respect and adore him,” she said.

Comedy highlighted the festivities even more than usual as writer/producer/director Judd Apatow was honored as a distinguished collaborator and feted by two of his most prominent proteges, Bill Hader and Jonah Hill.

Hill had the well-dressed crowd in the palm of his hand as soon as he mentioned that his mom was a costume designer on the beloved television classic ”Taxi,” before shouting out costume designer Sandy Powell for her work making him into “The Wolf of Wall Street’s” Donnie Azoff, for which he’s Oscar-nominated as best supporting actor.

But it was all about Apatow from that point on, springboarding off a montage of his work in film and television ranging from “Freaks and Geeks” to “Superbad” and “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” to “Girls.” “Most of us you see here started because of Judd,” Hill said. “He saw something in us that no one else did. I’m so grateful for everything he’s done for me. But I’m shocked because I wouldn’t think of Judd in the context of costume design.”

Yet Hill related how much effort Apatow put into costuming the schlumpy high school characters in 2007’s “Superbad,” down to the Richard Pryor T-shirt he wore in his role as Seth.

“This is awkward, because I don’t love Jonah Hill,” Apatow began, to great laughter from the audience, before launching into an anecdote about breaking a button on his jacket before the ceremony and trying to glue it back together with nail polish.

“It’s hard for anyone to take advice from me, wearing cargo shorts and a T-shirt, telling them what’s in fashion. But when I look at the montage, I see that you kicked ass -- and how important the wedding gown was in ‘Bridesmaids,’ the costumes in ‘Talledega Nights’ and the green bikini in ‘Girls.’ But maybe my career highlight is trying to hide the bulge in Ben Stiller’s pants.”

The awards ceremony was sponsored by Lacoste, which presented its annual Spotlight Award to actress Amy Adams, who also used comedy to make her points about the value of costume design in fully creating a character.

“They’ve taught me many things, like the importance of always wearing undergarments to fittings and then bringing a lingerie bag to separate your things at the end of the day. No one wants to have to use tongs,” said Adams, who was presented with the award by her “American Hustle” co-star, Jeremy Renner.

Adams highlighted another of her current roles, albeit a smaller and less showy one, alongside Joaquin Phoenix in Spike Jonze’s “Her.”

“On ‘Her,’ costume designers turned me into a hipster. That’s nearly impossible -- as I am a nerd,” she admitted. “You’ve also been magicians, therapists, friends and collaborators and it’s an honor to turn your visions into reality.”

Many other familiar faces from current movies and TV shows took part in the ceremony as presenters, including June Squibb and Will Forte from “Nebraska,” Kerry Washington, Mindy Kaling, Debra Winger and Scott Foley.

There was also a memorable appearance by Raquel Welch, who claimed her costume in 1966’s “One Million Years B.C.” is what made her legendary career. “There wasn’t much dialogue. It was all about the bikini,” said Welch, who looked stunning in a black sequined number that showed off her famous curves.

And there was this commentary from Apatow: “My 16-year-old daughter is not aging as well as Raquel Welch.”

Please click here to see the full list of winners in the announcement from the Costume Designers Guild.

Costume Designers Guild Awards 2014.jpg

Jimmy Fallon's 'Tonight Show' Debut Is Tonight. Does He Believe Enough in Himself to Excel? Back to the Future

Chuck Ross Posted February 17, 2014 at 3:18 PM

I’ve seen a leaked script of what may be Jimmy Fallon’s debut tonight on "The Tonight Show," and here’s the cold opening -- instead of a monologue -- which notes that there is plenty of room for ad-libs:

Title cards superimposed on the screen, and unseen announcer Steve Higgins tells us that we’re watching a TV show that’s a salute to Obamacare: “What’s My Pain?”

Close in on Fallon as the host, in a bow-tie, affecting an accent that sounds part American and part British. As a panel of "experts" posture diagnostically on the edge of their chairs, the first contestant signs in, protesting that he’s not a hypochondriac. His name: Mel Brooks. His pulse: 78. His blood pressure: normal. The panel fails in its first snap judgments -- upset stomach, twisted esophagus – and, eventually, as time runs out and Fallon throws all the cards over, we find out that the correct ailment was a sty.

Lucky contestant Brooks wins the full prize: two weeks' free hospitalization.

Furthermore, one of my friends on Madison Ave. slipped me the following NBC sales sheet about the new “Tonight Show": “ ‘The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon’ is a completely informal and mostly ad-libbed variety program starring comedian Jimmy Fallon. No set format will be used on the show -- instead the entertainment revolves around Fallon and what he decides to do next. Planning of each night’s show is held to a minimum so as to provide the maximum of elasticity, so that the program can take advantage of any situation that might come up, whether right there in the studio, outside in the street, or in some other city in the U.S. Fallon usually opens the program playing a selection on his guitar -- then he rambles over to his desk to read a few notes and comments on whatever strikes his fancy. One or more guests will be featured on the program.”

Okay, time to ‘fess up. This “memo” from Madison Ave. is actually taken from a real NBC in-house document that was circulated right around the time the "Tonight" show -- then called "Tonight!" -- debuted on Sept. 27, 1954. And it made no mention of Fallon, of course, but referenced the original "Tonight!" show host, Steve Allen, and his playing of a piano, not a guitar. I found it in the 2005 book by Ben Alba, “Inventing Late Night: Steve Allen and the Original ‘Tonight’ Show.”

Likewise, what I wrote above as the leaked “cold opening” of Fallon’s show tonight is almost a verbatim paragraph from Time magazine describing a bit on Allen’s “Tonight!” show that appeared 59 years ago this week. It was a send-up of the then very popular TV quiz show “What’s My Line.” (And the part I said was to be played by Mel Brooks was actually played by Allen “Tonight!” show regular Steve Lawrence, who did numerous comedic bits in addition to singing with Eydie Gorme, on the show.)

I make the comparison of Fallon, 39,  to Allen (who was 32 when he transformed his antic local New York City program into the national "Tonight!" show) because it’s always been clear that Fallon is much closer in style to Allen than to any other of the previous “Tonight” show hosts. Allen was a comedian who was also a pianist, wrote songs and sang. Fallon is a comedian who plays the guitar and drums and not only sings, but, seemingly, can mimic anyone else who has ever sung.

Fallon himself has made the comparison between himself and Allen. In a piece last week in The New York Times, Bill Carter quoted Fallon as saying, “What I do is more a variety show. It’s always been older in style. I’m an old soul. “ Fallon added that his “Tonight” show “will be a new take, but the show will have an old soul.”

Carter continued, “Specifically, [Fallon] feels linked to the first ‘Tonight’ show host, Steve Allen, who featured humor and music but also wild and silly stunts like climbing into a bowl of banana splits.”

Fallon, to his credit, after five years and almost 1,000 episodes of hosting “Late Night,” has a good grasp of what he’s good at and what he’s not good at.

Jimmy Fallon tonight show.pngCarter wrote, “Mr. Fallon acknowledged that his ‘Tonight’ will not be a place to go -- at least initially -- for hard-hitting interviews with politicians or celebrities dealing with some unpleasantness. When President Obama and Mitt Romney were his guests, Mr. Fallon had them ‘slow jam the news,’ one of his signature bits. If that means taking criticism for soft interviews, Mr. Fallon said, so be it.

“ ‘Other people do that better,’ Mr. Fallon said. ‘I leave that to Barbara Walters or Oprah Winfrey. The political stuff? Jon Stewart and Bill Maher, they have it. And Stephen Colbert, who is an animal. He’s amazing. Those guys are good at it. I don’t want to mess with that.’ “

Good for Fallon for recognizing his strengths and weaknesses. But then, oddly, Carter notes that “Mr. Fallon recently began extending his monologues on ‘Late Night’ and will extend them more on 'Tonight,' though [Fallon’s executive producer, Lorne Michaels] noted that one difference would involve inserting news clips to illustrate the humor.”

Huh? Jimmy, you just said Jon Stewart and Colbert and Maher own that space concerning humor about news events. Stick to your strengths, Jimmy. There are enough late-night monologues, and almost all those other hosts do it better than you have done it on "Late Night." Why not start your new gig on the "Tonight" show with various comic cold openings, be them in song or not?

Elsewhere in Carter’s piece Michaels says, “Jimmy is by no means a pure stand-up, far from it.”

And that’s Jimmy’s ace-in-the-hole. It’s why he can be hugely successful on the “Tonight’ show. As Carter notes, “Given the range of his talents -- singing, guitar playing, impressinons, sketches -- the big shift in a Jimmy Fallon 'Tonight Show' would seem to be toward a variety show rather than stand-up based comedy.”

Absolutely. In a real sense it’s what Allen was doing when he started the “Tonight” show 50-plus years ago. For many years, part of what made Letterman so much fun to watch is that he adopted much of Allen’s comic zaniness, from the lunatic stunts Dave would attempt to the kooky interactions he’d have with folks such as local shopkeeper Rupert Jee. And Letterman has acknowledged a debt to Allen.

But Letterman long ago stopped being wacky and madcap in the Allen tradition. Jimmy Kimmel has certainly borrowed from Allen as well -- in particular, his man on the street interview -- which Kimmel calls “Lie Witness News,” is a variation of the man on the street bit Allen popularized.

What Fallon has got that his rivals don’t is his talent for mimicry and musicality. And, of course, the best band on TV.

To ask Fallon to reinvent late-night would be an unfair burden. But certainly he’s got the chops to give "The Tonight Show" the jolt of energy it needs. If he hasn’t already, I’d suggest he study up on what Allen did both on the old “Tonight!” shows, his old prime-time show, and the later syndicated late-night program Allen did for Westinghouse for two seasons in the early 1960s.

Ultimately, Fallon only will be great by not compromising what he feels is right from within himself. But as he starts his new journey tonight, he should keep in mind that glancing back might give him a good blueprint for the future.