Open Mic

July 2009

The Perils of Live Blogging the TCA—on an iPhone

Chuck Ross Posted July 30, 2009 at 2:01 AM

Listen, here’s how it came down:

2:30 a.m. The baby started screaming, "ba-bah, ba-bah."

Hours earlier our 6-year-old daughter had come in our room and woke us with the news that her tummy hurt. My wife had gone to her room to put her back to bed and fell asleep on our daughter’s extra bed.

So I went downstairs and fixed our baby’s ba-bah and then fed him from his warm bottle.

By then it was 3 a.m.—six in the morning back east—so I went back downstairs and fired up the computer and sent Tom Gilbert, our executive editor in New York, an email. He was compiling our morning TVBizWire and I asked him how it was going.

Slow going this morning he said, so I went surfing the ‘net to help him. I found a candid interview the LA Times had done with Mike Fleiss. The timing was good because this season’s edition of his "Bachelor/Bachelorette" franchise had just ended.

When asked why we’d had more "Bachelor" editions over the years than "Bachelorette" ones, he said it was because women have a stronger passion in pursuing guys than guys do gals. According to Fleiss, guys will just shrug their shoulders and say, “Forget that chick. Let’s go to Hooters.”

The baby started crying again and I went back upstairs to quiet him. I fell back to sleep for about 15 minutes when the alarm woke me up again.

I called Tom and asked him if we were ready for my live blogging at the TCA. I’d never done that. Back when I was reporting regularly, blogs were a thing of the future. But now everyone was doing them. Piece of cake, I thought. And I was pretty excited about the session I had chosen to blog live about: Joan Rivers, who was going to be promoting her new show on TV Land, “How’d You Get So Rich?”

I’d only talked to Rivers once before, back in 1994 when I interviewed her on the set of her syndicated show “Can We Shop? ” I guess she specializes in shows that have question marks in the title. As I recall the interview, she was pretty funny. It centered around her talking to some guy who was pushing something to do with cleaning toilets.

I got dressed and ran out of the house and drove the 30 minutes to Pasadena and the Television Critic’s Association’s Press Tour—the TCA.

I ran inside, got myself comfortable, and realized something was terribly wrong. I called Tom.

You’re not going to believe this, I told him, I forgot my laptop.

There was silence on the other end of the phone and then, “That could be a problem.”

"No, no. I’ve got a solution. I’m gonna do it from my iPhone."

“I don’t think that’ll work,” Tom said.

"No, no, it’ll be fine. This thing’s really a damn computer. And I’m quite facile with typing on it."

“What are you talking about?. Everyone hates that virtual keyboard it has.”

"Trust me. We’ll be fine."

He had to go to into a short meeting. I couldn’t get hold of our tech support guy, and there really wasn’t anyone else around at TVWeek to help me.

As many of you know, Joe Adalian, our editor, quit a few weeks ago. I haven’t had a chance to replace him yet, which is why I’m here reporting from the TCA in the first place.

So I called my mom. She’s 83 and lives up in Northern California. Believe it or not, she’s pretty savvy on a computer.

“Hi hon, “ she said. “You’re calling me early.”

I explained that I was live blogging from the TCA and needed her to go on our Web site to see if anything that I was blogging was showing up.

“What’s it going to say?” she asked.

"It’ll be about Joan Rivers."

“Ohhh,” she laughed, “That’ll be fun.”

"OK, Mom, call me back when you see I’ve written something." We hung up.

Larry Jones, president of TV Land, came out and started speaking. I was waiting for Joan.

I looked around the room. Glancing behind me I spotted James Hibberd. The Hibberdmeister. Live blogger extraordinaire. The Live Feed. He had honed his skills at our shop and then abandoned us. OK, OK, there might also have been the issue of more money and a more Hollywood-centric publication. So he’s now with The Hollywood Reporter. I think I saw him touch his keyboard. Oh, for crying out loud, what the hell is he saying. Should I be blogging something yet?

Jones showed a clip of Joan’s show. It was funny.

Rivers came out. She was funny—and nasty, of course—right off the bat. “We were originally going to sell this to the Food Network and it was going to be called ‘How’d you get fatter than a fifth of an acre?’ with Kristie Alley.”

I typed furiously on my iPhone virtual keyboard, and then called my mom.

"Anything yet?"

“No, honey. Wait, here it comes. ‘Rivers says shoe first offered to Fudd Network.' ”

"Oy. Anything else."

“No. Oh, yes, here it is. 'Show was called How do u get fatter than a fifth grader?' ”

Tom was right. Live blogging from my iPhone wasn’t going to work. "Thanks, Mom."

I glanced around. Hibberd was typing away. I was sure it was great stuff.

Maybe I should try again. Rivers was having a great time, as if she was onstage in Vegas. She was dropping f-bombs all over the place. She was referring to her show as “How’d They Get So F---ing Rich?” Then she said that following her show was going to be “ 'How’d You Get So F---ing Poor,' hosted by the Madoffs.”

Again, I typed furiously. Just as I finished, my phone vibrated. It was Tom.

“You just wrote F-u-c-k-i-n-g. Is that OK?”

"As long as I don’t hear from my mom."

My iPhone vibrated again and showed that another number was trying to reach me. I recognized it as my mom’s. "Tom, I gotta go."

"Hi Mom."

“Honey, you just wrote F-u-c-k-i-n-g. Is that OK?”

"It is if Hibberd did it too."

“Who?”

"Mom, I gotta go."

I hung up. I had no idea what Hibberd was writing. I just knew it must be good.

Rivers was now telling a story about a guy who became a gazillionaire in the toilet cleaning business. What’s with this woman? It’s 15 years since I last saw her and again with the toilets.

Rivers couldn’t believe what some of the people do who she’d interviewed for her new show. “One of them I love is Hoffman,” she was saying. “You know you blow bubbles … (the wand) makes a bubble. This guy made [a wand] that makes five bubbles. You understand? Big f---ing deal.” She paused and then delivered the punch line: “Lives next to Barbra Streisand.

I was typing furiously again on my iPhone. Just as I finished, it vibrated once more. 

"Hi Tom."

“You just typed it again. Has your mom noticed?”

"Yes, but maybe Hibberd’s doing it too. Try and find out and call me back."

Joan was on a roll: “Do you understand? I’m not making a lie.” She was still talking about the five bubble wand guy. “His dog’s got a psychiatrist. He has a woman come in, and you can’t laugh because you’re filming you know. ‘Hmm, this looks interesting.’ And she’s making the dog feel relaxed. How much more relaxed can you be? You can lick your balls. I don’t know what more you want.”

The room erupted in laughter. I was typing feverishly on my iPhone. Again, it vibrated. It was my mom.

“I’m confused. Is it the dog that’s licking its balls?”

My phone vibrated yet once more while she was speaking. It was Tom. I told my mom to hold on.

"Yes, Tom. Find out about what Hibberd’s blogging?"

“No. But it just occurred to me that you never actually gave me that Fleiss item this morning, so we never posted it.”

I told Tom just a minute, hit a virtual botton on the phone and started to talk again to my mom.

"You’re confused about what? The dog?"

“It’s me, Tom. No, I’m not confused about the dog. I want to know about the Fleiss item”

"Hold on." Then I hit another of the phone's virtual buttons and said, "Mom, I’ll explain about the dog in a minute. Hold on." Hitting yet another button I said, "Tom, we'll use it this afternoon. I love the line about chasing gals at Hooters."

“No, honey, it’s mom. So these dogs lick their balls and chase girls at Hooters? That’s one crazy reporter's job you have.”

At that moment I dropped my phone. As I bent over to pick it up I saw this beautiful woman go up to Hibberd and say, “Love your blog. Do you Tweet?”

Son of a gun.#

An Important News Flash About American Pop Culture, And I Doubt You’ve Heard About It

Chuck Ross Posted July 27, 2009 at 6:40 AM

Tags: HD, high definition, TCM, upconversion, upconvert

The three cornerstones of American popular culture are the movies, music and TV. This announcement I’m speaking of hits on two of the three: movies and TV.

The only thing that excites me more than a terrific TV show is a wonderful movie. I was raised on TV—and movies ON television—which were a staple when I grew up in Los Angeles. The local CBS owned and operated station in LA, then called KNXT, had a great late-night movie program on weekends: “The Fabulous ’52.” Over on Channel 9, KHJ,.the RKO TV outlet, it was the nightly “Million Dollar Movie.”

Of course you had to put-up with a gazillion commercials, but there were all the stars of the 40s that my mom and uncle were always telling me about: Bogart, Cagney, Davis, Bergman and many more.

And what great storytelling. The history of America, Hollywood-style, in our living room every night, in glorious black & white.

Then, of course, syndication of TV shows came in, and, for the most part, bye-bye movies.

But in 1994, something magical happened. Ted Turner, who, in a few moments of mad folly, had almost put himself out of business by buying MGM and its incredible film library, came up with a really great idea. The showing of these movies, these gems of our culture, these incredible examples of great storytelling, on a TV channel with no commercials. And they’d be shown uncut and in their original screen ratio, just as originally released.

Furthermore, he asked one of my former colleagues when I was at The Hollywood Reporter, Bob Osborne, to be one of the hosts on this new channel. What a great choice! Ever since I’ve known Bob he’s been a big fan of and advocate of preserving, older movies. I was living in New York back in the 1990s, and every now and again Bob and I would get together to see old movies at one of the few movie theaters that would show them. Unfortunately, there are even fewer theaters that show older films on a regular basis today.

Though, thank goodness, these movies can be found on the channel Turner started. The channel, of course, is Turner Classic Movies, better known as TCM. As Time magazine film critic Richard Corliss said of it earlier this year, “For anyone who believes that the first hundred years of movies possess treasures that the last few years can't touch — and that's most of the professional film folks I know — TCM is an utterly essential part of the culture, our own American cinematheque.”

And, now, here’s the news: TCM is going high definition. Finally. For now, it’s not true high definition, it’s just going to upconvert its current signal.

For those of you who might not think this is a big deal, it really is. For many of us with big high definition TVs, the standard def signal from TCM has just not been satisfactory.

My service provider doesn’t have TCM HD yet, but Charles Tabesh, TCM’s senior vice president of programming, tells me that the picture is markedly better.

Oddly, TCM itself has said almost nothing about this milestone. Clearly it wants to manage expectations, and most likely getting the channel in real HD is at least months away, if not significantly longer—Tabesh claimed to have no information on that front.

Most of the information about TCM HD has been on the technical oriented AVS Forum, where one of the participants, named Tybee, broke the story. Here’s one of his excited postings from last month:

"Had dinner with one of my friends at TCM last night. He was very excited about the HD rollout. As you would expect, he said they're in the midst of setting up as many carriage agreements as they can. Some things he passed along:

- Cablevision was indeed the first to pick up the channel.
- Time Warner has already signed to carry the channel in some small markets.
- The good news: EVERYTHING WILL BE SHOWN IT ITS ORIGINAL ASPECT RATIO. No stretching. No cropping. No exceptions.
- The bad news: For right now, everything is being upconverted, rather than being shown in native HD. This is temporary (a year or two?) and as my friend pointed out (and has been discussed here) the material still looks worlds better than it does on the SD channel."

Then, a few weeks ago, came this posting from user mbd, who actually was getting TCM HD through Cablevision:

"After a week of living with TCM-HD, some thoughts.

1. Most of what they are broadcasting seems to be upconverted, but it looks night and day better than TCM-SD on my 55" 1080i living room tv.

2. 1.37 films are being shown in their original aspect ratio.

Overall, I am happy with the channel. TCM-SD was very over compressed on Cablevision, the HD version is not."

In a few weeks a lot more people will have a lot more to say about TCM HD, because it will debut next month in Time Warner’s cable system in Manhattan.

I know there are a lot of you out there who have no use for old black and white movies. Do me a favor. TCM is running a great series this month, showing movies from one of the greatest years of movies, 1939. This Friday, July 31, at 9 am ET (6 am on the Pacific coast) it’s airing “Midnight,” made in 1939.

My guess is that most of you have never heard of this comedy. Please, set your DVRs to record it. It’s got a wonderful cast—Claudette Colbert, Mary Astor, John Barrymore and Don Ameche, was directed by someone even those who like old films don’t know too much about—Mitchell Leisen, and was written by two of the great ones—Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett.

It’s the kind of movie you’re only going to find on TCM. Lemme know what you think about it.#

Video: From San Diego, my Conversation With 'Simpsons' and 'Futurama' Creator Matt Groening on the Past and Future of Comic-Con

Aaron Barnhart Posted July 25, 2009 at 1:09 PM

Tags: Comic-Con, Matt Groening

Fresh Batteries, Check. Airline Tickets, Check. Jedi Uniform, Check. Comic-Con, Here I Come!

Aaron Barnhart Posted July 24, 2009 at 7:31 AM

Tags: Comic-con

It's been a couple of years, so I am eager to return to the San Diego Convention Center for two full days of Comic-Con insanity starting Friday.

I have a full agenda and an empty Flip camera, so look for some interesting videos as I get the time to upload them.

And be sure to tune in AM 600 KOGO, San Diego's news and talk station, at 8:30 a.m. Friday, when I'll be in studio with Chip Franklin and my fellow Comic-Con geek, LaDona Harvey.

Here’s my preview from today's Kansas City Star. Previously on TV Barn, my previous visits to Comic-Con.

If You are Under 45 Years Old, Here's a Personal Explanation as to Why—and How—Cronkite was so Powerful and Influential

Chuck Ross Posted July 18, 2009 at 1:55 PM

Tags: Influential, Walter Cronkite

For anyone under 45 years old, the stature, power and influence that Walter Cronkite had in the 1960s and 1970s is likely hard to understand.

The best way I can explain it is to tell you a little about my family.

My dad was born in 1911, five years before Cronkite was born. My dad was a young man of 18 when the depression hit. As with many people from that era, the depression had a lasting impact upon my dad. For the remainder of his life he believed that cash was king, and that debt—and credit—were to be avoided at all costs.

My dad had just turned 30 when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, and he volunteered for, and became an officer in, the Army Air Corps, which was the predecessor to the Air Force.

To say that my dad was conservative, both fiscally and politically, is almost an understatement.

After the war my parents got married, and had two sons. My older brother and I became part of the Baby Boomer generation.

Though of the generation that fell in love with the movies, our dad was never seduced. His entertainment of choice was reading, primarily history.

He never watched a lot of TV. One program that did become a staple in our house was “The 20th Century.” It ran on CBS on Sunday nights at 6 pm (later at 6:30pm) for most of my formative years. The program featured stories of the events and the people that shaped the 20th century. Cronkite was the narrator.

The other program my dad watched with regularity was Cronkite’s evening newscast. Though we had the Los Angeles Herald Express (later the Examiner) delivered in the late afternoon, the Cronkite newscast became a must in our household.

In those days, information was neither instantaneous nor ubiquitous. Millions and millions of Americans depended upon the evening newscast to catch up on the day’s events.

Like my dad, Cronkite was a veteran of World War II. My dad clearly respected the newscaster. Back in those days people on TV and in movies had great voices, and Cronkite’s timbre was authoritative yet not overbearing.

The big split in our household centered around the Vietnam War. My dad was a proponent and my brother was demonstrably against it. The arguments they had would often ratchet up to yelling and screaming between them, usually concluding with my brother storming out of the house.

Until, one fateful night, when Walter Cronkite turned against the war. In what I recall was almost shockingly uncharacteristic for Cronkite, he broke out of his familiar “news reader” mode to editorialize that the war could not be won.

I could tell that my dad was visibly surprised by this pronouncement. My dad was a thoughtful man, and not a knee-jerk conservative. But on the issue of the Vietnam War he had not budged. The arguments between my brother and my dad about the war had produced a serious rift between them. By this point they were barely speaking to one another.

And then, suddenly, my brother had an ally in a man who had a lot of influence in our father’s mind: Walter Cronkite. Cronkite, I’m sure my dad would have said, was smart, sensible, and cautious. And, my dad would have noted, Cronkite was both a contemporary of his and, like my dad, a veteran of the second world war.

If Cronkite had decided the war couldn’t be won, that meant something.

In fact, in thousands of households like ours, it meant a lot. Walter Cronkite, this calm, polished, learned man who was so good at explaining the news to us—news we didn’t know about until he told us about it every day—had actually come out against the war.

Unlike the current war in Iraq, fought with all-volunteer servicemen and servicewomen, there was a draft during the Vietnam War. So one way or another, every home that had young men in it was very much directly affected by the war.

Cronkite’s coming out against the Vietnam war was the beginning of our dad changing his mind about the conflict. Our dad finally decided it was not a war we should be fighting. He and my brother reconciled.

President Johnson reportedly said after the CBS newscast that night that since Cronkite had come out against the war that the country would also turn against it. Cronkite’s pronouncement was clearly a factor in Johnson not seeking re-election.

Today, with the fragmentation of media and the fact that we now get our news instantaneously on the Internet or from the all-news cable outlets, there’s no newsperson who has the singular voice—literally and figuratively—that Cronkite had.

A short eight months after Cronkite’s last broadcast at age 65, my dad passed away, far too young, at age 70.

Six years ago Cronkite told Time magazine that he thought he had stepped down from his news anchor chair too early.

But I think my dad, and millions of others of us, would demur with Cronkite’s re-evaluation. Time has not been kind to the traditional news business, both on the distribution and content fronts. 

Reporting about stains on a blue dress and stars found dead in closets in Thailand after masturbating are not events those of us who grew up watching Cronkite picture him reporting.#

What You'll Find in Cronkite's Birthplace, St. Joseph, Missouri

Aaron Barnhart Posted July 18, 2009 at 12:00 PM

Tags: Kansas City, St. Joseph, Walter Cronkite

[Editor'sNote. Our friend Aaron, the TV Critic of the Kansas City Star, wrote a terrific obituary on the passing of Walter Cronkite, who is from Missouri. To read the entire obituary, click here. Below is a short excerpt focusing on Cronkite's ties to his birthplace, St. Joseph, Missouri.]

Walter Cronkite was just a baby when his family left St. Joseph, but it’s St. Joe that will always have the honor of being the newsman’s birthplace.

The big draw at the Patee House Museum, 12th and Penn streets, is probably the house where Jesse James was shot in 1882. But the museum’s “Streets of Old St. Jo” section includes a small exhibit devoted to Cronkites — two of them dentists (his father and grandfather). The display features a portrait of Walter Jr. (as he signed letters to his dad), the same portrait his dentist dad proudly displayed in his office.

There’s also a Cronkite family Bible there, and a thank-you note Walter Cronkite wrote to museum director Gary Chilcote when he dropped by to see the dental-office exhibit in October 2006.
The building where Cronkite was born in 1916 still stands at 15th and Edmond streets. Then a physician’s maternity hospital, it’s now a residential care facility.

The Cronkites left St. Joseph in 1917 — baby Walter’s dad would serve as an Army dentist in World War I. Curiously, while the Patee House exhibit mentions the family’s relocation to Houston (when Walter was 10) , it does not acknowledge the years before that, when they lived in Kansas City. Walter as a young man would return to KC, and his father would return to St. Joseph.

 In a 1994 interview, Cronkite told the St. Joseph News-Press he remembered taking the Interurban from Kansas City to St. Joseph in the 1920s to visit his grandfather’s farm. “He had horses, and a storm cellar that always smelled marvelously of apples,” Cronkite said.

I Was There: Watching the Great Cronkite at Work

Adam Buckman Posted July 17, 2009 at 7:11 PM

It was the 1980s and the old guys were still around.

One of them, Walter Cronkite, had relinquished his CBS anchor chair to Dan Rather in 1981, but I got an opportunity to watch Cronkite work one day a couple of years later, in a small studio at New York’s public TV station, WNET, where Cronkite was videotaping some intros and other material called “wraparounds” for a PBS documentary.

I had been invited up to the station to see him and, standing a few feet away from him while he worked, I learned about the art and effort of broadcasting.

Cronkite, then in his 70s, sat in a chair a few feet away from a large television camera, and recited some copy. I don’t recall if he read from a TelePrompTer, but if he did, it didn’t seem to draw his eyes away and distract him from his keen concentration on that camera lens.

He leaned forward in his chair and peered so intently into that lens that he literally seemed to strain physically to do it. It was as if he wanted to dive into it bodily. I realized that this was the method Cronkite must have adopted as anchor of “The CBS Evening News.” He must have believed that if he could focus his unwavering gaze directly through a point at the very center of the camera lens, then viewers at home could literally make eye contact with him.

The method evidently worked since it made him the most trusted man in America in his heyday as anchor of “The CBS Evening News.” I learned that day that broadcasting – real broadcasting – takes effort and study and work. And I never forgot it.

Funny Thing About the Emmy Nominees for Comedy Actress

Hillary Atkin Posted July 17, 2009 at 11:33 AM

Tags: actress, comedy, Emmy Awards, lead

They may know she was "F-ing Matt Damon," but Emmy voters may not know that much else about the surprise entrant into the exclusive club of the funniest women on television. Sarah Silverman nabbed one of the now six coveted slots in the lead actress in a comedy series race – a spot that  many people predicted would be filled by another comedienne with her own cable show, Tracey Ullman.

Silverman's brand of edgy comedy, bringing her sex and Jewishness to the fore in a way many people find offensive, is shaking up the contest -- with the other spots being occupied by acclaimed actresses in more traditional shows who are veterans of the awards-show circuit and owners of many trophies.

Julia Louis Dreyfus, Mary Louise Parker and Tina Fey have all been here before (and I've had the pleasure of interviewing all of them, as well as their fellow nominee Christina Applegate), and they all deserve to be this time, joined by Toni Collette, whose star turn as a mom with multiple personalities in Showtime's “The United States of Tara” obviously turned Emmy voters’ heads.

Fey will be riding the tidal wave not only of "30 Rock's" record-breaking 22 nominations, but of her win last year in this category. Not only did her character Liz Lemon get a new love interest this year, (the also-nominated Jon Hamm) but Emmy voters are clearly still madly in love with her. And of course, her buzz from this season was massively intensified by her deft and hysterical portrayal of Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin on “Saturday Night Live” through the fall, which drew critical raves and huge numbers of viewers -- and will probably contribute to "SNL" winning the comedy/variety series category against the hosted shows of Letterman, Colbert, Stewart and Maher.

Was it all part of a master plan by Ms. Fey, who as well as taking home the statuette for lead actress in a comedy series last year also grabbed Emmys as a producer and writer of "30 Rock?"

Tina Fey is ruling the world right now, and we’re just living in it.

 But the competition is stiff, stiff, stiff. The Emmys love JLD and MLP, and Ms. Applegate may draw a large sympathy vote, both for “Samantha Who?” being shown the door and for her high-profile battle with breast cancer.

Even Silverman might have trouble coming up with some jokes about that.

Emmy Nominations: I’m Pleased. I’m Pissed. How Do YOU Feel?

Chuck Ross Posted July 16, 2009 at 9:30 AM

Tags: cheers, emmys, jeers, kudos, primetime, snubs

The most outstanding nomination of the day: “The Family Guy” as most Outstanding Comedy Series.

I also liked the nomination of “How I Met Your Mother” in that category. Well-deserved.

I’m pissed about the overlooking of “The Shield” and “Battlestar Galactica,” two outstanding series that both ended their runs with easily Emmy-winning worthy seasons.

And a long-time favorite of mine, “24,” had its best season in several years but was snubbed.

On the acting side, both Kiefer Sutherland of “24” and Michael Chiklis of “The Shield,”—both former Emmy-winners—were certainly worthy of nominations this year for the new, dark places they took their characters. (Sutherland was nominated for last season's "24" movie, which was some consolation...)

And don’t even get me started about the snub of “Rescue Me” in too many categories—but hooray for the courageous Michael J. Fox, nominated for his guest appearance on that series.

I was surprised (shame on me for having not enough faith in the Academy), though very pleased, that Elisabeth Moss was recognized for her brilliant work in “Mad Men,” but what about Jeanne Tripplehorn, who is the best thing about almost anything she is in, especially “Big Love”? (Though she did get a nod for “Grey Gardens.”)

Not to make too much of a point about who rules the remote control in my roost, but any morning when one can wake up and see that “The Simpsons,” “iCarly,” “Hannah Montana,” "Spongebob Squarepants" and the aforementioned “Family Guy” all get Emmy nominations is a good one.

I could go on and on (good for nominee Holly Hunter, who delivers a wonderful performance of a fascinatingly screwed-up character week-in and week-out on “Saving Grace,” jeers for the snub of Tim Roth, an almost always under-rated actor, on “Lie to Me”), but, please, let me know how you feel about these Emmy nominations.

Funny Story About One of TV's All-time Great Pitchmen

Chuck Ross Posted July 9, 2009 at 10:15 AM

Tags: alpo, Billy Mays, Ed McMahon, johnny carson, pitchman, the tonight show

Discovery is airing a tribute to the late pitchman Billy Mays tonight (Thursday, July 9th, 9 pm ET/PT), and I’m eager to see it. Mays was indeed a pitchman extraordinaire. Like many of us raised on TV, we’ve come to realize the difference between your run-of-the-mill pitch person and those who almost raise it to the level of art. Or at least who are a hell of a lot more fun to watch than others.

Another of my all-time favorite pitchmen also died recently: Ed McMahon. In various remembrances McMahon has received lots of well-deserved praise for his skill in understanding what made a second-banana top dog.

But it was McMahon’s skill as a pitchman, particularly for Alpo dog food, that I’ll most fondly remember about him.

What made the Alpo commercials that he did on the ”Tonight Show with Johnny Carson" special is that they were done live…and later, live-on-tape.

Here’s my favorite one. I don’t’ recall if I saw it live or in highlight reel. But I do remember seeing it. My memory is enhanced by Ed’s recounting of this particular live commercial in his 1998 memoir “For Laughing Out Loud.”

One day, for a reason no one recalls, the dog that usually appeared in the commercial with McMahon had the night off. A substitute dog, a beagle named Hernandez, was filling in.

As was his wont, when the commercial began McMahon was sitting on a chair on a raised platform, holding a can of Alpo and said: “Alpo is the only one of the leading dog foods that has real beef…..” That was the cue for Hernandez to walk out on stage.

But, as McMahon quickly surmised, Hernandez had stage fright. He’d take a few steps toward Ed and turn away. No amount of coxing by McMahon could convince the dog to make it out to where Ed was sitting and the bowl of Alpo next to him

I’ll let Ed tell it from here:
“And then I saw Johnny come into my little commercial area. He got down on his hands and knees and came over to me. “Come right up, nice Hernandez,” I said as I started to pet Johnny.
Nice boss, I was thinking as I pet him on the head, nice boss. By this point the audience was hysterical. Carson wagged his rump to show how much he loved Alpo. I just kept going. I was going to get my commercial done.

“The next time you’re looking at canned dog food …” –he rubbed his cheek against my leg --- “…… nice Hernandez ….reach for the can that contains real beef….” Johnny got up on his knees and started begging for more. I started petting him again … and then he licked my hand. Good boss, good.

"And I still managed to conclude, gratefully, “And doesn’t your dog deserve Alpo?”#