Open Mic

June 2009

Jackson: Maybe Now He Can Rest in Peace

Adam Buckman Posted June 26, 2009 at 4:09 PM

Can’t stop thinking about Michael Jackson today, like everybody else. Not much I can add, except for this.

The second record album I ever owned was the Jackson Five’s ABC (the first was Alvin and the Chipmunks Sing the Beatles Hits).

ABC contains a bunch of iconic hits, but the track that floors me every time is “(Come ‘Round Here) I’m the One You Need.” The reason, of course, is Michael.

Here’s something I like to do: First, listen to the grown-up Smokey Robinson’s version of this song from 1966; you can listen to it here:

Then listen to Michael perform the same song at age 11 or 12 in 1970:

 Yes, this small boy possessed the talent of Smokey Robinson, or maybe more talent (I’m no expert). He was Michael Jackson.

Just my two cents.

Let the Music Play: Why Songwriters are Hurting Their Own Cause

Bruce David Klein Posted June 26, 2009 at 2:39 PM

It’s a crime!

Over the past 75 years or so, American culture has generated a breathless portfolio of extraordinary pop songs from Tin Pan Alley, to the Golden Age of Broadway, to Rock N’ Roll, Country, Rap, Jazz and on and on – and yet for the majority of these songs, it’s nearly impossible to include them in a television show (especially budget-challenged non-fiction shows).

Reality shows, documentaries, lifestyle shows – especially those that proliferate on cable networks like A&E, Bravo, Discovery Channel, History, National Geographic and TLC – would greatly benefit from a quick, easy and cost-effective way to clear popular music (and publishers and artists would find a new stream of revenue as their traditional revenue streams shrink).

However, the barriers currently in place for producers desiring to incorporate such music into their productions are…borderline insane.

Got a hit show on A&E? Want to grab 30 seconds of a song by Aerosmith for an important scene? First you have to track down the entity that owns the publishing rights to the song, then you have to track down the entity that owns the master rights to the song (almost always these are two different people). Also, each “side” of rights may be broken down into multiple owners. For example, the publishing rights to the hit 80s song “Everybody Have Fun Tonight” are owned 10% by BMG (which is ASCAP) and 90% by Spirit One Music (which is BMI).

Some songs we’ve cleared have almost 10 different “owners” (and many popular songs – especially hip hop songs – have many parties simultaneously claiming ownership). To sort this out takes a fair amount of work, even when we employ music clearance specialists, especially during the crush of a production. But, all that’s easy compared to the next step: negotiating the deal.

Music rights holders are rightfully freaking out. One-by-one their formerly rock-solid sources of income are drying up – and they’re nervous and are not in the mood to be thinking outside the box (maybe that’s part of the reason why they are in their predicament in the first place?). So you want a 30-second clip of Aerosmith’s “Dream On” for a documentary? My experience is that it will take you at least 4-6 weeks to negotiate the rights, including spending uncounted hours arguing over complex -- but ultimately meaningless -- step-up deals and other future options and “triggers.”

Don’t even get me started on MFN – most favored nations clauses – which cause significant mental distress!

So let’s say you get through all of this, and -- congratulations! -- you’ve negotiated the deal. Ready to slot the song into the show? Not so fast.

There’s often a little thing of artist approval, which can range anything from a 7-day approval process to chasing down Paul Simon while he’s on tour to approve use of his song in a show (been there, done that.)

Further complicating all of this is that there are some limited circumstances where you can actually “fair use” music clips (i.e. use clips without a license). This is based on the fair use doctrine, which is a crucial friend to documentarians. It actually allows certain in-context use of brief clips of a song without need for licensing, although there are some rules regarding its implementation (i.e. context, length, etc). You should have an attorney on retainer review all fair use of songs and other material.

My question, amidst this labyrinth of hell, is simple: Why isn’t there an easier way to do this?

When a producer licenses a photo from one of the stock photo companies, it’s simple: one call, a quote, done. There is a huge business in the thousands of quick deals closed daily between producers and stock houses for photos and footage.

Why not something similar with music? Maybe if there were some kind of collective – a “one stop shop” for music clearances put together by rights holders — that could be the ticket. Perhaps BMI or ASCAP could get into this game?

As someone who has created, produced and/or directed numerous series, mini-series and specials and owns hundreds of trademarks and copyrights, I completely understand and respect an artist’s right to control and exploit his or her creation. I can also easily understand why not all artists seek exposure for their songs in other media.

However, I believe that a clear, smart system – a system that fairly represents artists, and yet one that is easy for producers to navigate – would lead to a dramatic and long overdue use of popular music in TV shows and other entertainment.

I say “crank up the music! “ Our country, culture – and airwaves — would be richer for it.


HBO's Big Comedy Hope: 'Hung'

Jace Lacob Posted June 26, 2009 at 2:17 PM

Tags: Hung

With the economy tanking and pink slips becoming an ubiquitous confetti in cities across America, it's no surprise that many creators are mining the potential death of the American dream for dramatic potential.

Throughout his career, writer/executive producer Dmitry Lipkin has succeeded at showing the dark side of that dream. In his short-lived (albeit much missed) FX series The Riches, Lipkin used a family of Travelers, the ultimate modern society outsiders, as a means for exploring just what materialism and suburban trappings meant to the psychic landscape.

In “Hung”, the new HBO series Lipkin co-created with Colette Burstein, the subject of the American dream looms large. This time, the focus is on Ray Drecker (Thomas Jane), a down-on-his-luck Michigan basketball coach/high school history teacher whose life is literally falling down around him. Besides for a thankless, underpaid job at his high school alma mater (where he returned after an injury sidelined his pro sports career) , Ray has got a shrew of an ex-wife to deal with (Anne Heche), two sullen teenagers (Charlie Saxton and Sianoa Smit-McPhee), and his lakeside family home catches fire in the middle of the night, leaving the family more or less homeless.

I had the opportunity last week to watch the first four episodes of “Hung” (the first of which is directed by Alexander Payne) and was struck by the spiral of despair that Ray finds himself in as he circles the drain, a situation that accompanies the realization that his life hasn't amounted to its full potential. It's a path that leads him to first to a self-help seminar overseen by the oily Floyd Gerber (Seinfeld's Steve Hytner) and later into the bed of local poet Tanya Skagle (Jane Adams), a frizzy-haired free spirit with a dream of launching Lyric Bread, a line of baked goods with works of poetry baked right in.

That these two aren't compatible romantically is a given. Ray is a fallen golden boy with an ego as big as his, well, physical endowment; Tanya is a strong-willed modern woman in touch with her sexuality whose dreams remain squarely out of reach. Her idea for Lyric Bread is so cerebral and just plain out of touch with reality but that hasn't stopped Tanya from dreaming big. Just as The Riches found humor and pathos in the workplace setting, here too does “Hung”, setting daydreamer Tanya as a legal office temp, a drone copyproofing endless contracts in a neverending routine of drudgery.

That these two would decide to form a partnership and set up shop as a prostitute and a pimp is one of the main plot points of “Hung”'s pilot episode, though it takes a while for the duo to come to this conclusion, as obvious as it is to the rest of us. Which is one of the problems with “Hung” as a whole: the plot twists are so conspicuous that they can be seen a mile down the road.

It's clear from the very start that Ray will have to use his member as his most marketable "tool," and when he shocks the seminar's attendees by stating this fact, I cheered for the painful awkwardness of the situation. But that's the problem: the ensuing scene unfolds strictly within Ray's imagination and not reality, where he spins a yarn about being a vintage car enthusiast. And yet I couldn't help but wonder why Lipkin and Co. didn't go all out and actually have that conversation unfold rather than play it out in Ray's mind. I wanted to see his classmates' reactions, their looks of shock and horror and perhaps amusement. I wanted Ray for once to be honest.

This misstep is one of the series' downfalls. I kept hoping for some pathos-laden humor to rear its head, but “Hung” plays it safe in more ways than one. Ray is presented as little more than a sad-sack to the point that it's hard to root for him when everything he does (whether setting up a tent in the backyard to urinating in the lake) drags him further down. His journey should be hilarious (in a trainwreck sort of way) but it's often presented extremely matter-of-factly.

Likewise, one can't help but believe, given the series' title and its placement on pay cable, that “Hung” is going to be extremely provocative but it's actually quite a chaste program as a whole. Given Ray's physical, uh, dimensions and his new line of work, one could imagine that this could push the envelope, even for HBO but the result is fairly tame, even by basic cable standards.

I couldn't help but picture Aaron Eckhart in Thomas Jane's role and wondered just what he would be able to do with this picture of wounded masculinity. Still, Jane brings a quiet power to Ray that's at odds with his bruised and battered ego, a lived-in quality that shows the signs of too many battles with ex-wife Jessica (Heche) and too much worry stemming from his maladjusted kids. As Tanya, Adams gives the poet-turned-temp the wide-eyed glimmer of hope that eternal optimists have even at the worst of times, turning Tanya from a human punching bag (witness her relationship with Rebecca Creskoff's insane Lenore) into the living, breathing embodiment of thwarted potential, making her a kindred spirit with Ray.

Still, despite a slow start and a defined lack of humor, “Hung” does show some major improvements by the third or fourth episode, where Jane's Ray and Adams' Tanya share some emotional--rather than physical--intimacy (witness Tanya's handling of a missing wallet) and Ray finally embraces his new prozzie gig, seeing the value of Tanya's viral marketing, its female-friendly positioning as Happiness Consultants, and the service he's providing to some sex-starved women. The turning point comes a little too soon as Ray finally fulfills his contract with an older married woman (The Riches' divine Margo Martindale); he's a little too slick, a little too smooth considering his apprehension (and possible psychosomatic reaction to meeting his client in the flesh).

That said, there's still a sweetness to the moment where Ray realizes that these women--average housewives that they are--may be just as disenchanted as he is. Despite having wealth and privilege, they are just as discontented with how their lives turned out as Ray is and perhaps he is giving them more than just sex. Perhaps he's giving them a dream.

“Hung” premieres Sunday evening at 10 pm ET/PT on HBO.

GET YOUR DAILY DOSE OF JACE LACOB AT HIS BLOG, TELEVISIONARY.

'The Daily Show': Escape from Iran

Hillary Atkin Posted June 24, 2009 at 5:48 PM

Tags: The Daily Show

“How did you make it out of there alive?,” I somewhat seriously and somewhat facetiously asked “Daily Show” senior investigative foreign correspondent Jason Jones and producer Tim Greenberg about their recent trip to Iran. Their mission, and they chose to accept it, thinking they were going to France, was to somehow find humor “Behind the Veil,” as they’re calling their multi-part series documenting their ten-day journey to the land of the ayatollahs. .

After all, the two fake journalists could have easily become the male versions of Laura Ling and Euna Lee, or Roxana Saberi, thrown in jail by an oppressive Axis of Evil regime.

So how did “The Daily Show” manage to get two of its people into the country, with seemingly free rein? Believe it or not, they've been working on it for about a year, hustling both the United States government and the Iranian consulate’s press attaché for permission -- with assurances that Jones would not strip down in a mosque, or do anything else crazy. “You are mistaking us for real reporters," they assured the bureaucrats, even while knowing there's not a lot of laughter in bullets and death.

When the official okay finally came through, it was with this caveat -- they were not allowed to bring any electronic equipment with them. No computers, no cameras. Not great for TV, but more on that later.

The timing was perfect. They were able to go during the lead-up to the disputed June 12th election, before things got completely crazy and blood was literally running in the streets. They were safely back in an edit room in New York when the street demonstrations broke out, and would have probably been forced to leave the country anyway as other Western journalists, real journalists, have.

They hired a fixer who then hired a crew with equipment-- maybe not quite up to par, but good enough under the circumstances, until it wasn’t-- a guide and a van. As Jones and Greenberg were trying to sleep off the jet lag shortly after arriving in Tehran, the fixer summoned them: they could actually go to a campaign rally for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. They quickly jumped out of bed and headed out.

If you missed this initial piece in the series, you have to catch it online. We are talking laugh-out-loud funny, and the backstory is nearly as good. Without a translator, Jones, doing a standup with the hard-line Holocaust denier ranting and raving in the background, had to take it upon himself to translate. It was basically along the lines of, "He hates the Jews." Pause. Turns to look at the bearded one and then back to camera. "Yes, he still hates the Jews."

But what you didn't see may have been as funny. Jones and Greenberg told me when they were setting up in the crowd, an elderly, scarved woman looked at them and asked: "Zionistas?”

“Jason said, ‘Just my producer,’” Greenberg said, laughing at the memory. “That's as close as I've been to a Holocaust denier since [former Daily Show correspondent} Rob Corddry," added Jones.

Their time in Iran was enough for the two to discern that the political divide was akin to the red state-blue state thing we have here. Uneducated, fundamentalist, poverty-stricken residents who live in the desert and in small towns outside Tehran are most likely to be Ahmadinejad supporters, and sophisticated city-dwellers wearing green are in support of the other guy, Mousavi—no great shakes as a choice of leader if we had our say….which, of course, the wackjobs who have retained control of Iran seem to think we do. Yes, the series of deadly street demonstrations was a Zionist, British and American-orchestrated plot to destroy the democratic will of a great civilization. With more than 100% of the voted counted.

But back to Jones and Greenberg. Driving out to the desert, somewhere maybe near Qom, they were trying to shoot a funny bit with some camels, but the camels kept running away. It was a 13-hour day, and they got about 10 seconds of a shot, but Jones said even that was ruined by "cheap Iranian equipment."

Unbelievably, they were actually given access to clerics and opposition leaders—who were later thrown in jail. In a rare bit of serious journalism Monday night, Jon Stewart actually brought on the son of one of the dissidents to give an update about his father's condition. The man had been pulled out of a hospital bed and jailed. None of this is/was funny.

In a play on Jay Leno’s famous Jaywalking segments “TDS” is calling Jihadwalking, Jones also managed to conduct many person on the street interviews in which he questioned people about their knowledge of the United States and its government, and-- to his astonishment, and visible disgust-- just about all of them passed with flying colors. The Iranians he interviewed were able to name the three branches of government, the date and year of our independence day and a list of presidents going back for the past 50 years, in order.

They also learned that Ayatollah Khameini (which Greenberg insists is pronounced like a rhyme for "hominy") is almost, but not quite as scary as that mullah from 1979 “Death to America” hostage hell, Ayatollah Khomeini. To most Americans, there isn't really a difference.

Yet while Jones seemed to find a lot of intelligent and friendly people, again, much to his surprise, he was a bit confused by the men’s room facilities. Apparently--and we don't have to get graphic here -- there is no toilet paper in Iran, but rather a hose.

And Jones was thirsty, so he drank from it.

(“The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” airs at 11 p.m. Monday--Thursday ET/PT on Comedy Central.)

Jon & Kate: Feeding Kids to the Media Lions

Jonathan Reiner Posted June 23, 2009 at 10:30 AM

Tags: Jon & Kate Plus 8

I gave into the hype and finally watched Monday’s episode of TLC’s "Jon & Kate Plus 8.” I was as curious as the rest of America as to their big announcement: If they are separating, how will it be revealed? What about the kids? Why am I so invested?

The answers, in order: in separate confessional interviews; we don’t know yet; because I like good TV.

Tonight’s episode was satisfying on many levels -- compelling story structure, surprisingly good production values, semi-seamless product integration and deep-ish character development.

But I was left with a bad taste in my mouth.

I saw Jon and Kate talk a lot about how their relationship has deteriorated, but almost no mention of what derailed their relationship in the first place or whether this marriage can be saved. I don’t care who’s wrong and who’s right, but I do care about those eight kids. Divorce is indescribably rough on a child, and I’m a little disturbed that (and curious about) Jon and Kate are so public with their problems without offering any reason or solution. Instead, we heard about their separate schedules and how “tough” it’s going to be on the family.

Uhm -- maybe ya shoulda thought about that before you signed on to do a TV show, or at least before you decided to broadcast your separation on your highly rated show!

By being so public -- and yet so coy -- Jon and Kate are feeding the media monster that is devouring their lives. I’d rather see them pull the plug on their show, or at least make some attempt to solve their problems without exposing the kids to the ravages of this horrible publicity storm.

By nature, reality fans want more, more, more of their favorite characters and shows. Well, to me, Jon and Kate’s behavior feels like parents feeding their kids to the lions.

 

Jon & Kate: Buckman's Take

Adam Buckman Posted June 23, 2009 at 10:20 AM

Tags: Jon & Kate Plus 8

I have warned many people over the years: If you see a group of reality-show producers approaching you, run away.

If they’re coming up your sidewalk preparing to ring your doorbell, draw the curtains, turn out the lights and remain perfectly still. If you’re lucky, they’ll have no alternative but to go away, leaving you and your life and your loved ones in peace.

Yes, I can imagine there are great temptations involved in considering whether to commit yourself to a reality TV show, such as Jon and Kate Gosselin did three years ago, in 2006 (their TLC series, “Jon & Kate Plus 8,” premiered a year later, in May 2007). They looked around at their brood of eight and concluded that, basically, doing this TV show is the only way they were ever going to be able to pay for all these kids to have a decent life.

Did the show ruin their marriage? It appears that the show is at least partly to blame, though sharp-eyed viewers have detected friction between these two from even the show’s earliest episodes.

But the show changed them. They moved on up to a bigger house, he pierced both of his ears, she developed a taste for expensive hair styling.

There’s a price for living your life so publicly. These Gosselins seem to have come out of the experience different than they were before, back when they were private citizens who nobody else knew or cared about. Jon said on Monday night’s show that he didn’t know who he was before and now he does. Well, whatever that means, he doesn’t think he’s compatible with Kate anymore and they’re done, a terrible thing to happen to eight small children.

TLC, of course, wound up with a gold mine. Suddenly, this little TV show was the talk of the tabloid press for two months and the couple in the eye of the storm was agreeing to announce their soap-operatic separation right there on their TV show. The people who run TLC are human, of course, so I doubt they’re privately rubbing their hands together with glee over the ruination of the Gosselin’s marriage. Still, TV people live and die by ratings, and there’s a part of every TV exec, even at TLC, that can’t help but be excited by the potential audience that even the tragedy of a real-life broken marriage can attract.

After all, that is the purpose of a TV show — to attract the most viewers it can for the sake of making money from sponsors.

I’ve been wondering also this week how these six teens on Bravo’s new reality series, “NYC Prep,” were persuaded to star in this show. I’ve been wondering whether they were each told how great they would come across on the show, that they would become celebrities in their schools and in their tony neighborhoods, that there is no downside whatsoever to appearing on a television show.

Well, in their case, there’s a big downside: They all come across as spoiled, vacuous idiots whose behavior is appalling. They’re not stars or celebrities; they’re freaks in a sideshow — which is exactly what the producers and Bravo want them to be. For these kids, the only thing that can come of this is extreme embarrassment. They should have said no.

Few participants in the nine-year history of reality television — all of it — have ever come across favorably. The thing that happens is this: Producers prey on the one weakness they can always count on, which is ignorance.

Most people are too clueless about the true nature of television to have the good sense to just say no when television comes a-calling

Want more Buckman? Check out his blog on all things television, TVHowl.

 

Iran: In Times Like These, Journalists Matter

Garth Ancier Posted June 22, 2009 at 10:49 AM

The current turmoil in Iran is a timely example of the challenges and opportunities facing news organizations in the multi-media world.

There's information from a breathtaking array of sources - a consequence of the connectedness of the internet age - which is democratic and liberating, but which also raises questions about how we can verify the accuracy of the very personal accounts that can be accessed on Twitter, Facebook, blogs and homemade video downloaded on the web.

Over the last few days the Iranian authorities have restricted journalists from entering the country and imposed restrictions on correspondents already there. They've also been active trying to
restrict news into and out of the country, specifically targeting the BBC by persistently interfering with a satellite which carries the BBC's international television and radio services. The BBC has responded by increasing the number of satellites that carry its Persian television service.

There have also been attempts to clamp down on internet connection in Iran, but a huge amount of material has been published online and sent to news organizations around the world. The days of regimes being able to prevent the world witnessing events which are not such good international PR seem to be over.

But the free flow of information on the internet does raise concerns.

How do we know the images we're seeing have not been staged or doctored? Are the "eye witness accounts" actually coming from people inside Iran? Many bloggers are advancing their own political agendas. What about communities who are not as active online? Who is representing their
position?

Leading news brands like the BBC have built their reputation on journalistic credentials-- the accuracy of their reporting and a balanced presentation of the issues. Our Tehran Correspondent, Jon Leyne, has brought a real depth of knowledge and understanding of the political culture that simply cannot be replicated by parachuting in a reporter. Jon has been asked to leave Iran and is no longer there. And the BBC's London based Persian Service, working across radio, TV and online, has been monitoring the huge amount of information that has been sent to them over the internet. They've been applying their technical and editorial expertise to verify this information and contextualize it as part of their coverage of this complicated story. The quality of the reporting has been recognized by audiences around the world - page impressions at bbcpersian.com have increased seven-fold this month and streaming of Persian TV has massively increased.

BBC World News America has recently posted some of its strongest audience numbers since the newscast launched in October 2007. The unrivalled BBC newsgathering infrastructure that has made our coverage of Iran so strong also gave us an edge with Obama's visit to Europe and
the Middle East, the Air France plane disaster and stories that are truly global in scope from the economic meltdown to the swine flu virus and the environment.

Perhaps viewers sense that, even while sources of information increase, a trusted name and a track record of delivering accurate, compelling coverage, is increasingly what they want. 

Nielsen, Nets Need to Get Real When It Comes to Measuring Success

Jonathan Reiner Posted June 22, 2009 at 9:48 AM

Tags: Nielsen

Forgive me for the gap between entries, but I’ve been busy with work, school, repairmen, veterinarians and life. The good news is that I’m all caught up on my favorite reality shows thanks to my trusty DVR and the best invention of the 21st century (so far): the marathon!

My point (and I do have one) is that in 2009, life often gets in the way of our viewing habits -- but it doesn’t mean we love our shows any less. Just the opposite, in fact.

True, I’m not parked in front of the TV when a show premieres, like I was in the ‘70s with “Happy Days” or the ‘80s with “Dallas” -- but new technological innovations and online components (as well as social networking) allow me to savor and obsess over a show like never before.

For example:

--I am bringing the 30-minute preview of Bravo’s “NYC Prep” to my high school reunion this weekend (via my iPhone) so the Bronx High School of Science class of ’89 can laugh and scoff at those uppity preppy kids (like we did back in the day).

--Once again, my favorite part of MTV’s “Real World/Road Rules Challenge” is the obligatory reunion, where dirty laundry is aired and paraded (and pivotal moments are recalled via flashbacks). Now I have a jonesing for past challenges; thank God they’re on itunes!

--Everyone has an opinion about last week’s finale of Bravo’s “Real Housewives of New Jersey”, and they’re not afraid to share it on Facebook. Thanks to the marathons (and re-runs of the finale) I can relive all the big-haired bodaciousness while messaging with friends. I must sound like a teenager, but it’s fun sharing laughs about reality TV with disparate people from across my address book!

--Even execs are getting into the action: “She’s Got the Look” honcho Allison Grodner posted a note on Facebook reminding her peeps to watch episode two on TV Land last night; I had forgotten all about the bitchy cougar-fest (DVR didn’t, thank GOD), and now I’m catching up on all the delicious action.

Unfortunately, Nielsen doesn’t measure the depth of viewer loyalty. In Nielsen’s universe, a 25-year-old girl who does homework with “American Idol” on in the background is more desirable than a 35-year-old man who loads watches and re-watches marathons or buys episodes on itunes and watches the show so often he can recite the dialogue word for word. That’s not right.

In a time when everyone is fighting for eyeballs and ad dollars, we need someone (anyone!) to step up to the plate and overhaul the way viewership is measured. Our lives are changing like never before, and we need a system that recognizes those innovations and assigns value to the lengths we’ll go to enjoy our favorite shows.

 

'Housewives': The Most Amazing. Fight. Ever.

Ben Mandelker Posted June 17, 2009 at 1:07 PM

Tags: The Real Housewives of New Jersey

OH. MY. GOODNESS.

After weeks of anticipation, we finally got to see the epic brawl on The Real Housewives of New Jersey tonight, and it did not disappoint in the least. It was — as the kids say — O.O.C. (That stands for "Out of Control"). I'm telling you, there has never been a fight like this in Housewives, nay, Bravo history. There were lies, accusations, screams, and one unlucky tabletop that went falling to the floor. In short, it was amazing.

I'm actually a bit at a loss for what to say. There was so much, I mean, SO MUCH, that my brain sort of shut down. It couldn't absorb the chaos on screen. I will try my best to retell the events, but like many of the gossiping wags at CHATEAU: THE ART OF BEAUTY, I may get some of the details wrong. Here's what we do know: all the wives, with the exception of Jacqueline (the surprising hero of the episode), acted like idiots. Danielle chose the wrong time and place to air her grievances, and she did so in an aggressive, confrontational way that really is not helpful to achieving a mature dialogue. Dina was similarly brash — perhaps feeding off of Danielle — and her dismissiveness only served to heighten the tension. Caroline was great as the moderator... until she too got sucked into the drama and turned into a raving lunatic. And Teresa, well, I think her new bubbies are filled with crazy juice because her outburst made no sense at all (but was welcomed).

The fun all began when all the housewives departed their homes for a season-ending party hosted by Teresa. With guitars blazing and drums thumping, the entire sequence felt like the meeting of the five families. Shockingly though, the dinner party proved to be rather pleasant and jovial... that is, until Danielle surfaced. This was gonna go sour real fast. Sure enough, right in the middle of the banter, Danielle whipped out a copy of "THE BOOK" (as seen at CHATEAU: THE ART OF BEAUTY) and plopped it down on the table. It was awkward to say the least. No one really knew what the hell she was doing, but we were treated to several sound bytes of the women asking things like "Is she really going to do this? Right here? Right now?" Yes, ladies. It was about to be on like Donkey Kong (assuming Donkey Kong had big fake breasts).

Anyway, everyone tried to ignore the book at first, but Danielle wasn't about to let that happen. She decided this would be the time to clear the air about her past. According to her, there were only two truths in the book: she got arrested, and she changed her name. Okay. Well, that's it, right?

WRAWNG.

An Open Letter to Stephen Colbert

Danny Schechter Posted June 16, 2009 at 3:24 PM

Tags: Stephen Colbert

Dear Stephen Strong:

Welcome home, soldier. Your week in Iraq is all over, but the war, of course, isn’t. At least your presence there reminded us that Americans troops are still there. I am sure your presence gave them something fun to do, but hey, Nation, shouldn’t we think a little deeper about this fused exercise in military promotion and self-promotion?

Your shtick as the conservative counterpart, as an O’Reilly wanna-be, to Jon Stewart aside, you were not the only one flattered and enabled by the nominally apolitical USO to entertain the troops. These exercises to promote troop morale are part of “selling” as well as “telling.”

Al Franken went on such a tour when Bush was in command, although I noticed that W appears along with other former POTUS’ to endorse your cheerleading for our “service members.”

What are they really serving?

How will history regard this war born out of so much lying and responsible for so much killing?

Needless to say, these issues were not raised in four days of entertaining programs that gave presidents, candidates, military commanders, an Iraqi politician, movie star Tom Hanks and only two grunts, each chosen — carefully to represent a category — Arabs and women — face time in the coolest recruitment special targeted at war age teens.

The Pentagon was delighted and this effort was consistent with the “AAU” mantra that governs news coverage (AAU stands for all about us. ) The Iraqi people and their suffering were no where to be seen on The Colbert Report, just as they are usually invisible on the news.

You joked, “Iraq is so nice, we invaded it twice.” Good line — but it seemed to be said with approval. There were, of course, no anti-war sentiments allowed, no criticism of the president who got into your hair cutting stunt, no INFORMATION, really, other than we are there to “help” and it’s too early to proclaim victory.

While your show went out with its subtext of strengthened security, many Iraqi lives were being lost in new rounds of insurgent attacks by people who see the US as there to stay and only going through the motions of withdrawal. At week’s end, you thanked and genuflected to the bravery and beauty etc., etc. of the troops who sang us the ARMY SONG.

You may not know, Stephen Strong, that this song was originally written by field artillery First Lieutenant [later Brigadier General] Edmund L. Gruber, while stationed in the Philippines in 1908 as the “Caisson Song.” Six million Filipino’s died in that Vietnam before Vietnam, as brutal an intervention as any in our history. And today, totally forgotten!

Verse: Valley Forge, Custer’s ranks, [THE WARS AGAINST THE INDIANS!] San Juan Hill and Patton’s tanks And the Army went rolling along Minute men, from the start, Always fighting from the heart, And the Army keeps rolling along. (refrain)

Verse: Men in rags, men who froze, Still that Army met its foes, And the Army went rolling along. Faith in God, then we’re right, And we’ll fight with all our might, As the Army keeps rolling along. (refrain)

“Faith in God, then we’re right”… no doubt what the “enemy” sings too. “Allah Akbar” is how they put it.

This official anthem, led by that gung-ho Sgt. Major reminded me of all the anti-war songs that were never sung on a USO show, but also buoyed GIs in anti-war coffee shops/activism, and even today, in the ongoing GI resistance to war movement that never made it on your show or in the news. Where were the Iraq Veterans Against the War? Or for that matter, all the in the military critics of stop-loss orders, poor equipment, mercenary contractors, military “justice,” sick Veteran’s hospitals, unpunished war crimes, etc. etc.

As I laughed at your chutzpah and clever repartee, I was also weeping about the seeming co-opting of one of the few beachheads on TV for real satire and social criticism.