It's the New Year's Holiday: Time to Cuddle Up in Front of the TV and Watch Some Fun Movies. A Suggestion. And Yes, It Really Is the Kind of Movie They Do Not Make Anymore. The Man with the Touch
Of all the genres of movies, the hardest to make just might be the sophisticated comedy. Much easier to make the in-you-face “Hangover” movies, or “Something About Mary.” They are funny for sure, and pretty high on the crass level as well. “Bridesmaids” was hysterical, but its humor was not particularly of the high-minded or light-of-touch variety.
Judd Apatow, probably the king of American film comedy these days, has been quoted as saying that his favorite movie is Mel Brooks’ “Young Frankenstein.” That sounds about right. And “Young Frankenstein" is a very funny movie. It’s a terrific spoof of horror films, and, if you’re in the right mood, will have your sides hurting as you cannot stop laughing at its puerile inventiveness.
Brooks makes comedies that are excessive because he’s clearly touched with lunacy and as audiences, we’re forever grateful.
But I want to direct your attention to a man who was known for making great comedies not because he was touched, but because he had a touch. He seemed to have some sort of magic wand, and once he waved it over his production team, they would all be anointed with a cleverness, a worldly-wise thoroughly adult manner that was both funny and irresistibly pleasing.
It’s the opposite of vulgarity, but, like pornography, it’s something that’s instantly recognizable.
I am speaking of a movie-maker who died 67 years ago. His name is Ernst Lubitsch and there’s a wonderful opportunity to see one of his best movies this weekend.
TCM is showing Lubitsch’s not often seen “Trouble in Paradise” at 3:30 in the afternoon on Friday, Dec. 30 for those of you who live in the Eastern time zone (12:30 Pacific Time). If you can’t watch it live I would urge you to record it for later viewing. It’s a delightful choice to watch on New Year’s Eve, cuddled up next to your significant other.
“Trouble in Paradise” was made in 1932, which wasn’t that long after sound movies took hold in Hollywood. It stars Herbert Marshall as a thief and Miriam Hopkins as a pickpocket. The third leg of the romantic triangle is Kay Francis, who plays the owner of a perfume company.
Here are some comments by movie critics about “Trouble in Paradise”:
David Kehr: "The bon mots fly and an elegant immorality abounds, while beneath the surface the most serious kinds of emotional transactions are being made."
Andrew Sarris: "This movie seemed to have everything: the grace and elegance of the twenties, the egalitarian conscience of the thirties, the visual wit of the silent cinema, and the verbal wit of the talkies."
A longtime commentator on American culture, the late Alistair Cooke, once said, "I have played ‘Trouble in Paradise’ to three different generations over the past forty years or so, to the delight of all of them.".
One cannot write about Lubitsch without a few words about his most important collaborator, screenwriter Samson Raphaelson. Here’s this from an essay about the movie from the DVD release put out by The Criterion Collection. Says pop culture critic Armond White: “ ‘Trouble in Paradise’ never turns mushy—and never slows down—due to Lubitsch and screenwriter Samson Raphaelson’s cosmopolitan insight about the capriciousness and fluidity of romantic attraction. It is among the most astute movies ever made about the joys of sex even though it is, primarily, a sparkling abstraction. Each character’s cultured civility only covers up criminal, sexual, human instinct. Within their tuxedos and stain gowns, they reveal animal appetites, recognizable weakness and enviable wit.”
As you watch this movie, know that Lubitsch and Raphaelson collaborated on another movie, 13 years later, that is also a true must-see comedy gem—perhaps the best comedy about relationships ever made: “The Shop Around the Corner” starring Jimmy Stewart, Margaret Sullavan and a marvelous cast of supporting players.
“I feel sorry for people who have never seen an Ernst Lubitsch movie; they are missing such delights,” filmmaker and critic Peter Bogdanovich wrote on his website earlier this year. “There is no way to really describe what exactly it is that makes most of his pictures so charming, funny, human, stylized, unique.“
Bogdanovich then added a comment with which I wholeheartedly concur: “If more people were enjoying Lubitsch movies, they would be happier, more hopeful.”#
NOTE: If you do not subscribe to TCM, hope is not all lost. If you DO subscribe to Netflix’s streaming movie service you can order up, instantly, Lubitsch and Raphaelson’s “Heaven Can Wait.” This 1943 enchantment has nothing to do with Warren Beatty’s 1978 “Heaven Can Wait" (which itself is a remake, but not of the Lubitsch film).
Simon Cowell Talks to TVWeek as the 'X-Factor' Finale Is Soon to Air. What Cowell Will Do About the Sing-Offs Next Season and What He Thinks About the Judging on 'American Idol.' And What TVWeek Thinks Should Happen to Host Steve Jones
The four judges and three remaining contestants on Fox's “The X-Factor” held a press conference on the set of the show at CBS Television City on Monday, Dec. 19, 2011, and I attended to find out what Simon Cowell intended to do next season with the screwed-up judging of the sing-offs.
So during the press conference I told Cowell that it seems to me, judging from the emails we get, the way he’s got it set up where the public eliminates one person each week is working. However, the part where the judges eliminate another person is not working. You’re going to deadlock too often, and the judges are not picking the person who does the best in the sing-off. Are you thinking of changing how that works for next season, I asked him.
To which Cowell replied, “Absolutely not.” Then he spoke specifically of the week Nicole froze up, sent the process into deadlock, and Rachel Crow got eliminated from the show, despite the fact that she clearly sang better than Marcus Canty in the sing-off. “If that week had worked, in the way I believe the process should work … the judges could have saved [Rachel]. The fact it went to deadlock means that that week the process didn’t work.”
Then Cowell criticized Nicole, saying, “If everyone had done their job properly that week, then this format would have worked really well. So I’m not going to change the system, I’m just going to suggest that we do a better job when we do it in the future.”
As I’ve previously written, Cowell himself was equally guilty of screwing up the process this season.
Entertainment Weekly’s Adam Vary then asked a good question about the problem with groups on the show, noting that a group had, for the first time, finally made it into the finals of the U.K version of “The X-Factor” this season, after the show has been on-air there for almost a decade.
Cowell replied, “Within two years, a group will win this show. Because I think I know the kind of group who could win the show like this. And if they walk in the door, they’ll win. Guarantee it. I can feel it.”
Paula Abdul was the mentor of the groups this season, and I liked what she put forward for next season. It’s an idea she said a number of viewers have suggested to her: “Maybe if each judge/mentor had one group, and we each had one female, one male, and one over-30, that would help solidify more interest in groups.”
Cowell also addressed the high expectations he had for the show this season that it didn’t reach. For example, he predicted that out-of-the-box it would have “Idol” like ratings, and “The X-Factor” hasn’t come close. “I think I probably came here a little too cocky, but I am cocky by nature. I had come off the back of a massive hit in the U.K., had the adrenaline (and) couldn't wait to put the show on here, and it is going to take a little longer than I thought.”
He also vowed that the show would improve next year.
Given Cowell’s ego and his will to succeed, it makes me want to definiltely check out the show again next season.
After the formal press conference was over Cowell and I spoke for a few minutes. He said he was glad I had asked about the judging of the sing-offs and again vowed they’d do it better next season. We also spoke for a moment about the judging on “American Idol” last season.
I said I thought the judges, in an effort to make the show more positive for the contestants, had mostly just given us mealy-mouthed platitudes. Cowell seemed to agree, commenting that he thought viewers would eventually turn to “The X-Factor” to see him and his cohorts if “Idol” continued in that direction.
Of course the problem there is that too much of the judges' patter on “The X-Factor” is sniping at the other judges. Like at “Idol,” I thought that even our ol’ reliable truth-teller -- Cowell -- had too often not given honest assessments of the performances this year on “The X-Factor.” Each judge is too leery of critically assessing the performance of those he or she mentors.
Maybe that’s something Cowell will tweak for next season as well. Part of that process would be replacing Nicole and host Steve Jones. In fact, there are stories all over the 'net today that Jones will indeed be history next year, though no on-the-record sources are quoted in any of the stories and Cowell has previously said that decisions about who will return to "The X-Factor" next season have not yet been made.
Jones -- I've yet to find one viewer who likes him -- is more awkward to watch on TV than the last most awkward person to watch on TV, Dan Rather when he anchored CBS's nightly newscast.
"What's the frequency, Steve?" I know, I know, you don't have a clue.
Finally, a Weekly Show That's as Much an Adrenaline Rush as Was '24.' It's Unscripted. And God Is the Star's Co-Pilot. We Say Hallelujah Whenever God Brings Us TV This Good. Can It Sustain This Pace? Also, More of 'X-Factor' as It Continues to Implode
One of the pleasures of "24" that made it such a hoot for a lot of us was the fun we had yelling back at our TV screens at some of the impossible scenarios with which the show presented us.
Well, in our household, yelling back at the TV has reached new highs in decibel levels in the past month and a half or so as we’ve found another weekly show that’s driving us crazy while simultaneously giving us quite an adrenaline rush.
It’s unscripted and it’s coming to us from an unusual source: The mile-high city, Denver.
It’s Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos. Tebow and the Broncos are not just already THE sports story of the year, they’re the underdog story of practically any year. Tim Tebow is Jimmy Stewart in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” He’s Tom Laughlin in “Billy Jack.” He IS "Rocky."
Tebow can do anything. Of that I am convinced. He’s Jack Bauer in any number of impossible can’t-get-out-of situations that he then gets out of.
Jack had a cell phone, Chloe, and a big-caliber gun at his side. Tebow claims only God, a pigskin and a terrific offensive line. And I thought Bauer was unreal.
For the uninitiated, please consider these facts: The Broncos started the season by compiling a record of one victory and four losses. Tebow played, but he wasn’t really made the team’s full-time quarterback until game six.
The Broncos have now won six games in a row, and are in first place in the western division of the AFC.
Now, here’s the really unbelievable part: Tebow has led the team to victory all six times in game-winning drives that have taken place either in the fourth quarter or during overtime.
Being based here in L.A. I have the advantage — as do the millions of others who live here — of being that most fun-loving of enthusiasts, the freelance pro football fan.
That's because we haven’t had an NFL team here in L.A. for years. So I sorta go with the flow, and glom onto the most alluring team of any one season.
The last time I did that with any enthusiasm was in 2007, when I became a fan of Eli Manning and the New York Giants. They faltered as the season wound down — lots of yelling at the TV then — but recovered and ended with a terrific run, winning the Super Bowl.
But baby, I’m B-A-C-K! Just try and rip off my brand-new blue and orange No. 15 jersey that I’m now wearing on any given Sunday, and you’ll have a fight on your hands.
Here are some stats from Vegas on the Broncos run, emailed to me by RJ Bell of pregame.com:
The Broncos have won 6 straight games. If you started with $100, and let it ride
on Denver to win each of the 6 games, you now would have won $38,450.
Prior to being favored Sunday vs. the Bears, the Broncos were underdogs in their previous 5 games, becoming only the third team since 1978 to win 5 straight games as underdogs in each.
The game played yesterday (Dec. 11, 2011) was another Tebow special that had to be seen to be believed. Bottom line: The Bears were leading, 10-0, with just over 2 minutes remaining in the game. The Broncos caught the Bears and then won in overtime.
The Bears’ Marion Barber was criticized for two critical miscues that helped the Broncos' cause. In one, he stepped out-of-bounds, stopping the clock when the Broncos were out of time-outs, and in the other he fumbled, which led to Tebow being able to position the Broncos to win the game during the overtime.
But having watched the Broncos during this implausible streak of theirs, I'm convinced that if it weren't Barber, it would have been someone else. Fate is the hunter, as the saying goes.
This coming Sunday the Broncos are 6-point underdogs to the Patriots.
Tebow and me and the Broncos have got ‘em right where we want ‘em.
As I have previously written, “The X-Factor” loses all credibility when the show has sing-offs and then the judges ignore who sings best during a sing-off. It happened again last week. Better than linking to a video of what happened, here’s a words-eye view by the Washington Post’s most talented TV reporter and columnist, Lisa de Moraes. If you’re not regularly reading Lisa, you should be:
We are at the time of the results show where they have a sing-off between two contestants. The judges then eliminate one of the two. Last week it was Marcus Canty again and, for the first time in a sing-off, 13-year-old Rachel Crow.
De Moraes writes:
Because of this week’s Pepsi Challenge snafu, the X-testants had to use their survival songs on Wednesday night, and we’re in for two repeat performances. For Marcus that’s “I’m Going Down” – only this time his non-microphone hand is going wild for emphasis. In Rachel’s case it’s “I’d Rather Go Blind,” and it’s even better than the first time she sang it. Rachel clearly aced this round and now we’ll hear from some real industry pros, who know true talent when they hear it: the mentors. Just kidding!
LA, Marcus’s coach, informs viewers, “I am a man of principle.” And by “principle” he means he will vote, not based on the best performance, but based on who’s on his team. So LA votes to send Rachel home, and we hope that’s a lesson to little Rachel about “principles.”
Simon is brief. “What’s the point of even saying anything …Marcus you’re going home.”
Paula: “The one who really blew me away was Rachel Crow.” She votes to send home Marcus.
So now we have one vote for principles, and two for talent, and it’s down to Nicole.
Nicole weeps, Nicole stammers. Nicole presses her temples with her bejeweled, perfectly manicured fingers.
“Okay, I can’t made this decision, because I’ve been up there, and love and adore both of you,” Nicole wails while making it all about her. Nicely played, Nicole!
“I have to go to deadlock,” Nicole emotes, meaning the contestant with the fewest votes from the public will go home.
So the tally is: two for talent, one for principles, and one for not understanding the rules.
Too Tall [host Steve Jones] informs Nicole that there is no option called “not making a decision.” To throw it to deadlock, is to make a decision to vote to send home Rachel, tying the mentor votes at 2-2.
Nicole looks annoyed — TTS is cutting in on her Big Moment.
“I don’t want to have to say that,” Nicole snaps. “I don’t want to -- I’m just going to have -- Yeah, I don’t want to send you home, I just don’t --.”
She does the two-handed finger-quote: “The act I have to send home is Rachel.”
Steve, who’s not so dumb as he looks, then proceeds to steal Nicole’s big scene, announcing that, based on Nicole’s act of idiocy, he’s now required to send home the act that got the fewest viewer votes, that act being:
Little Rachel falls to the floor and starts bawling like the little girl she is. Some day Rachel will realize how lucky she is to get out of her X-commitments and one step closer to being free to go out and sign a deal to become the next Disney kid star. Poor little Rachel is now thinking that people don’t like her. Too Tall Steve has gotten down on his knees near Rachel and is finally a proper height.
To read De Moraes' entire column -- which is terrific -- please click on the link above.
Next season -- "The X-Factor" has already been renewed -- a decision needs to be made to eliminate the possibility of a deadlock. If the show's producers don't want to hire a fifth full-time judge (or, conversely, go down to three judges), at the very least they need a "guest" or "alternative" judge for the results night (or for the entire season) who will beak any deadlocks without going to the public's vote (which already votes one contestant off a week).#
Rick Perry's Debate Gaffes Make For Choice Comedy. However, What He's Chosen to Say About Gays, Sadly, Only Points Out a Tragic Flaw in His Character
Sixty-six years ago, in the dense, snow-covered forests of Western Europe, Allied forces were beating back a massive assault in what would become known as the Battle of the Bulge. And in the final days of fighting, a regiment in the 80th Division of Patton’s Third Army came under fire. The men were traveling along a narrow trail. They were exposed and they were vulnerable. Hundreds of soldiers were cut down by the enemy.
And during the firefight, a private named Lloyd Corwin tumbled 40 feet down the deep side of a ravine. Dazed and trapped, he was as good as dead. But one soldier, a friend, turned back. And with shells landing around him, amid smoke and chaos and the screams of wounded men, this soldier, this friend, scaled down the icy slope, risking his own life to bring Private Corwin to safer ground.
For the rest of his years, Lloyd credited this soldier, this friend, named Andy Lee, with saving his life, knowing he would never have made it out alone. It was a full four decades after the war, when the two friends reunited in their golden years, that Lloyd learned that the man who saved his life, his friend Andy, was gay. He had no idea. And he didn’t much care. Lloyd knew what mattered. He knew what had kept him alive; what made it possible for him to come home and start a family and live the rest of his life. It was his friend.
The recounting of this true story is from a speech President Obama delivered a year ago, when he signed the legislation ending the military’s policy of “Don’t ask, don’t tell.”
Later, I heard Lloyd’s son, Miles, talking about his dad and Andy and gays in the military on the public radio show “The Story.”
Miles put a fine exclamation on the issue: “Valor has no sexual orientation.”
Texas Governor Rick Perry must have been absent in Sunday school the day that was taught. Or, perhaps more likely—and sadly—it was a lesson that wasn’t taught in the Sunday school Perry attended.
We know how Perry feels about this because of what he says in an ad he’s just released in Iowa, as he coddles—and cuddles up to—the evangelical vote there.
Here’s how the ad—titled “Strong” by the Perry campaign—opens: “I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m a Christian, but you don’t need to be in the pew every Sunday to know that there’s something wrong in this country when gays can serve openly in the military but our kids can’t openly celebrate Christmas or pray in school.”
I’m not even going to address the rest of what Perry said about our kids, nor what he says in the rest of the ad, which you can watch at the bottom of this column.
But it’s not the only slur against gays he’s delivered lately.
Earlier this week both President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave impassioned support to gays. Clinton gave a speech that “equated gay rights with women’s rights during a speech in Geneva,” reports ABC News. That same article said, “In a memorandum released today, Obama said foreign aid should be used by U.S. agencies operating abroad to 'promote and protect the human rights of LGBT persons,' including combating the criminalization of LGBT status or conduct by foreign governments, along with protecting LGBT asylum seekers and refugees.
“ ‘I am deeply concerned by the violence and discrimination targeting LGBT persons around the world, whether it is passing laws that criminalize LGBT status, beating citizens simply for joining peaceful LGBT pride celebrations, or killing men, women, and children for their perceived sexual orientation,’ Obama said in the memo.”
The report also tells of Perry’s reaction: “ ‘Just when you thought Barack Obama couldn’t get any more out of touch with America’s values, AP reports his administration wants to make foreign aid decisions based on gay rights. This administration’s war on traditional American values must stop,’ Perry said in the statement. ‘Promoting special rights for gays in foreign countries is not in America’s interests and not worth a dime of taxpayers’ money.’
“ ‘But there is a troubling trend here beyond the national security nonsense inherent in this silly idea,’ Perry said. ‘This is just the most recent example of an administration at war with people of faith in this country. Investing tax dollars promoting a lifestyle many [Americans] of faith find so deeply objectionable is wrong. President Obama has again mistaken America’s tolerance for different lifestyles with an endorsement of those lifestyles. I will not make that mistake.’ ”
I would posit it’s Perry who's out of touch with America’s values.
For example, a number of conservative commentators have said they are OK with gays in the military. When asked about it on ABC’s Sunday morning news show “This Week,” conservative commentator George Will said, “For people of [Matthew Dowd's] son's generation, being gay is like being left-handed. ... The Supreme Court has a famous phrase it used in some opinion, the evolving standards of decency that mark a maturing society. Clearly these are evolving, and the case is over, basically."
In a column posted in June 2010, on the site “View From the Right,” Lawrence Auster quoted Washington Post conservative Robert Knight as follows:
“Charles Krauthammer, who has written some of the best critiques of Obamacare and the rest of the left's assault on America, is also aboard the gay express. He's smarter than God. So, too, are Chicago Tribune columnist Steve Chapman, Weekly Standard columnist Stephen Hayes, Fox News analyst Margaret Hoover and American Spectator columnist Phillip Klein, all of whom have called for repealing the military ban. Mr. Klein called it a ‘no-brainer.’ No arguing with that.
“The silence of other talking heads is deafening while Democrats ram through their immoral assault on our military. So I have a couple of questions for these pundits: First, given that you've warned us repeatedly about many dangers of the left, why are you embracing the centerpiece of their war on American values? Homosexual activism is the spear point of the larger cultural blitzkrieg. Without Judeo-Christian morals, liberty and freedom cannot thrive, as observers from Tocqueville to Adam Smith to George Washington have warned. Or just visit any inner city where socialist sexual values have prevailed.”
I’m sorry, but what crap. Supporting gay rights does not violate Judeo-Christian values. Supporting gay rights does not mean liberty and freedom cannot thrive—just the opposite, in fact.
Back in the days of Congress’ Communist witch hunt of the 1950s, Lillian Hellman wrote a famous letter to a congressional committee saying that she refused to testify about other people who she believed had done nothing wrong. The sound bite for all time was “I cannot and will not cut my conscience to fit this year’s fashions.”
But Hellman also wrote in that letter, “I was raised in an old-fashioned American tradition and there were certain homely things that were taught to me: To try to tell the truth, not to bear false witness, not to harm my neighbor, to be loyal to my country, and so on. In general, I respected these ideals of Christian honor and did as well with them as I knew how. It is my belief that you will agree with these simple rules of human decency and will not expect me to violate the good American tradition from which they spring.”
Human decency demands that Perry and those of his ilk stop their incessant attack on gays and those who support ending discrimination based on someone’s sexual orientation.
Obama and Clinton are right on this one. Their stand IS the moral one, and is the one that’s right for the country.
Great Gift Idea: This Is the Holiday Present We're Sure Steve Jobs Would Have Liked Getting. It's the Story of Someone With a Scientist's Brain, a Poet's Heart and a Painter's Eyes. Simplifying to Get to the Essence
One of the great accomplishments Steve Jobs achieved was bringing the world the Apple design aesthetic.
In Walter Isaacson’s splendid, compulsively page-turning best-selling biography “Steve Jobs,” he quotes Jobs as saying early on in his career, “The way we’re running the company, the product design, the advertising, it all comes down to this: Let’s make it simple, really simple.”
Part of Jobs’ interest in design, Isaacson writes, came from the man who raised him, Paul Jobs, and his love for the styling of certain cars that he shared with Steve.
Jobs’ sense of design was further refined when Jobs was in his mid-20s and started attending the International Design Conference in Aspen.
Isaacson writes, “In Aspen [Jobs] was exposed to the spare and functional design philosophy of the Bauhaus movement, which was enshrined by Hebert Bayer in the buildings, living suites, sans serif font typography, and furniture on the Aspen Institute campus. ... The modernist International Style championed by the Bauhaus taught that design should be simple, yet have an expressive spirit. It emphasized rationality and functionality by employing clean lines and forms. Among the maxims preached … were ‘God is in the details’ and ‘Less is more.’ “
Flash back now some 37 years earlier to the mid-1940s. An immigrant from Hungary who was an artist and a designer was teaching design at Brooklyn College. His name was Gyorgy Kepes. He had been part of the Bauhaus movement in Europe. A student enrolled in one of his classes said that the course literally changed his life. That 24-year-old student was Saul Bass.
Bass, who died in 1996, is my favorite graphic designer. He’s a towering figure in his field, who was quite influential in the last half of the 20th century.
For reasons I have never been able to figure out, there has never been a really comprehensive book written about Bass.
Over the years there had been rumors that one of his daughters, Jennifer, was working on such a project, but nothing materialized.
Until last month. “Saul Bass: A Life in Film & Design,” by Jennifer Bass and Pat Kirkham, with a foreword by filmmaker Martin Scorsese, has now been published by London-based Laurence King Publishing. This magnificent 424-page coffee table book should be on everyone’s must-give list for the holidays. It carries a suggested retail price of $75 but can currently be found online at places like Amazon and barnesandnoble.com for about $47.
I don’t know if Jobs ever met Bass, but I’m sure, knowing Jobs’ interest in design, that he would have liked this book a lot. Clearly, Jobs and Bass were on the same wavelength about design.
Gyorgy Kepes, the designer who so inspired Bass when Bass took his class at Brooklyn College, once said that he saw himself striving to solve the riddle of man’s place in the cosmos by looking at the world “with a scientists brain, a poet’s heart and a painter’s eyes,” according to a piece about Kepes on the website of the Ad Directors Club of New York.
It’s clearly how Bass looked at the world as well.
In the same article Bass said of Kepes, "He changed my life. He turned me around and I became a designer because of him. He opened the door for me that caused me to understand design and art in another way. He is a truly inspired teacher. It is rare that a man can be both an artist and a teacher and perform superbly as both."
What’s so splendid about this new book about Bass is that co-author Pat Kirkham has done such a good job in communicating the evolution of Bass’s career. Combined with that there are hundreds of illustrated examples of Bass’s work in the book.
Bass himself actually started working on this book back in 1993. Given that we’ve waited almost 20 years for its arrival, the one item the book should have and does not is a DVD with myriad examples of Bass’s work in movie title design. Stills are fine, but one really needs to see those works in full motion.
Back in the 1950s Bass reinvented title sequences in movies, He was able to reduce a movie’s essence to images that would be shown integrated with a film’s credits, usually right before the movie began. For many of these title sequences he was able to work with first-rate composers.
Here’s one of my favorites. It’s Bass’s title sequence for “The Big Country,” which was released back in 1958. The great music Bass has to work with in this sequence is by Jerome Moross.
Besides doing title sequences, Bass designed many movie posters. Sometimes the studios liked ‘em, and sometimes they didn’t. Here’s an example of both. Paramount did indeed use Bass's poster for “Vertigo.” However, MGM passed on using Bass’s poster for “Grand Prix,” though Bass did the title sequence and was a visual consultant for that movie.
Bass did not design the logo for Apple, but he did design lots of logos that are as simple, clean and memorable as Apple’s.
These are as varied as his logo for Lawry’s restaurants and its Seasoned Salt and his logo for Kleenex (though the latter was unfortunately slightly altered in 2008).
If you have the resources, besides giving “Saul Bass: A Life in Film & Design” as a gift, you might want to give yourself a copy. And perhaps donate one to your local library.
Great design is thought-provoking, spiritually uplifting, and, surpise, surprise, good for business.
Thank goodness for people such as Jobs and Bass who realized the value and importance of design to our everyday lives.
Farcical Misfortune on 'The X-Factor.' By Betraying Himself, Simon Cowell Let Down Two Talented Singers and, Ultimately, Betrayed Us, the Viewers
I like Simon Cowell. As the only consistent truth-teller on “American Idol,” millions of us got used to his reflecting a lot of what we felt about various contestants. And he didn’t mince words when delivering his opinions.
Unfortunately, the setup of Cowell’s latest show, “The X-Factor,” discourages the total honesty one felt most of the time from Cowell on “Idol.”
That’s because the judges on “X-Factor” also mentor the contestants, including helping them pick the songs they perform. This means that they are rooting for those they mentor. It also means that they are sniping with the other judges a lot.
At the same time -- especially in the earlier weeks -- the judges seemed reluctant to criticize any of the contestants, lest the other judges would say something critical about the contestants each was mentoring.
That’s gotten somewhat better as the show’s moved toward its concluding weeks.
But last week Cowell really did something almost unforgivable. He refused to follow through with a belief he truly felt, setting off a very unfortunate chain of events.
Before I delve into the specifics, you need to know a little more about how “The X-Factor” works. Two contestants leave each week. One of them is the person who gets the lowest number of votes from the public.
Then the next two contestants with the lowest number of votes engage in a sing-off, with each of the two contestants singing a different song. The judges are supposed to vote off the contestant who does the worst job in the sing-off.
However, because each judge has an “interest” in keeping the person he’s mentoring in the competition, the mentor/judge for that person in the sing-off will almost always vote for his or her singer.
Since there are four judges, that generally leaves it entirely up to the other two judges to decide who wins the sing-off. If the votes from all four judges end in a tie, then the person in the sing-off who got the fewest votes from the publicin the voting the night before goes home.
So here’s what happened last week on Nov. 23, 2011. The show wound down by building up to a climax that saw a sing-off between LeRoy Bell, a 59-year-old crooner being mentored by judge Nicole Scherzinger, and Marcus Canty, a 20-year-old energetic performer who counts as his musical influences such singers as Marvin Gaye, Bobby Brown and Usher. Judge LA Reid is his mentor.
During the sing-off, Canty sang the Christine Aguilera song “You Lost Me.” Bell sang The Beatles’ “Don’t Let Me Down.”
As expected, judge Reid voted to keep Canty on the show, and judge Scherzinger voted to keep Bell on the program.
That left it up to Paula Abdul and Cowell to decide the singers’ fates. Abdul voted to stick with Bell, and send Canty home.
So it came down to Cowell.
And this, regrettably, is what Simon said:
“I like them both. In the competition, Marcus, I think you’re nudging ahead of LeRoy.”
OK, that’s fine, but what the judges are supposed to be doing at this point is judging who sang best in the sing-off. Otherwise, what’s the point of having the sing-off?
Cowell then said, “But LeRoy, you did sing better tonight.”
Ah, finally, the truth-teller in Cowell came out. Yes, indeed, Bell’s version of “Don’t Let Me Down” was clearly, demonstrably, better than Canty’s “You Lost Me.” It wasn’t even close.
Then Cowell did something that shocks and astounds me even now, a week later. Despite saying that Bell had won the sing-off, Cowell said, “I’m going to let the public decide tonight. I’m going to send LeRoy home.” That put the judges vote into a tie. Then it was revealed that in the public voting, Bell had received less votes than Canty.
So, despite clearly winning the sing-off, Bell was sent home.
Was Cowell out of his effing mind? What the hell is the point of having a sing-off if you’re not going to say that the person who you think sang better should stay on the show?
If you’re just going to have the public vote off two singers each week, why even go through the motions of having a sing-off??
I can see going to the public vote in case of an honest tie among the judges, but what Cowell did was not honest. He deliberately made the sing-off invalid by saying that despite Bell WINNING the sing-off, he was refusing to vote for him to stay on the show.
It wasn’t fair to Bell nor to all of us watching at home, since it was so clear that Bell won the sing-off. Why Cowell would turn his own show into a mockery -- a farce -- is beyond me.
And, of course, what he did came back this week to bite Cowell in the ass.
Because Cowell refused to send Marcus packing last week like he should have, as fate would have it, Marcus was once again in the sing-off this week.
But this time so was one of the singers Cowell was mentoring, the young teenager Drew, a 14-year-old who idolizes the bluesy and soulful singer Adele.
After the sing-off Reid voted for Marcus again, and Cowell voted for Drew. Cowell did a mea culpa, saying that it was his fault that she was in the sing-off this week because he had her sing a slowish “Billy Jean” this week. He then made a plea to Nicole and Paula to keep Drew in the competition.
They didn’t, and Cowell was so livid he refused to comment on-air about Drew’s elimination from the show.
The mea culpa Cowell should have made was about his screwing up last week.
Actions have consequences. By not doing what he should have done last week and eliminating Marcus, Cowell was really responsible for Bell unjustly leaving the show last week and for Drew leaving this week.
It wasn’t fair to them, and certainly not to us watching at home.
The show is called “The X-Factor.” That’s supposed to refer to some special factor the winner of the competition will have. It’s not supposed to refer to some lapse in Simon Cowell’s judging that screws up the competition.
What Happened When the Dean of American TV Writers Collaborated With the Famous, Flamboyant English Director Who Had Been Described as the King of Pornobiography?
Sidney Aaron “Paddy” Chayefsky was riding high. Considered by many to be the dean of American TV writers for the classic stories he wrote for the small screen during the 1950s -- most particularly “Marty” -- Chayefsky was now writing for the bigger silver screen. It was 1977, and he had won Oscars for his last two original screenplays: “The Hospital” in 1971 and “Network” in 1976.
Chayefsky had loved working on “Network.” Not only had the subject matter taken him back to his TV roots, he was able to work with another veteran of TV’s Golden Age, Sidney Lumet, as the director of the film. They shared many memories from those halcyon days, and Lumet, who did not know a lot about comedy, was very willing to listen to how Chayefsky wanted many of the satirical scenes in that movie played.
And that was a good thing, since Chayefsky had achieved a very rare thing in Hollywood: Not one word of his scripts could be changed without his permission. It was in his contract, and it was much more akin to a clause a playwright gets than a Hollywood screenwriter.
After “Network,” Chayefsky delved deep into his next project. It would deal with the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in all of us, focusing on mind-bending drugs and isolation tanks. According to author Joseph Lanza, “Daniel Melznick, an executive at Columbia Pictures, thought Chayefsky should novelize the screenplay first,” to use that as a tool to convince other Columbia executives to make the film. [In the end, Warner Bros. released the movie.]
So novelize is what Chayefsky did during 1977, a time in which he suffered a heart attack, from which he soon recovered. At the same time he was novelizing his script, Ken Russell, the enfant terrible of English directors, was putting the finishing touches on “Valentino,” writes Lanza in his book “Phallic Frenzy: Ken Russell and His Films.”
“Valentino” would be a box-office flop for the director movie critic Pauline Kael had dubbed “the inventor of a new genre, pornobiography.”
Like his screenplay, Chayefsky named his novel “Altered States.” As the project proceeded, it was announced that yet another major talent who had gotten his start during TV’s Golden Age in the 1950s -- Arthur Penn -- would take the helm and direct “Altered States.”
Penn tells what happened next. “I was supposed to [direct] ‘Altered States’ … which [Paddy and I] spent months working on together,” Penn says in “Arthur Penn: Interviews” by Penn, Michael Chaiken and Paul Cronin. “Paddy and I have been good friends ever since we were drafted into the army together. I told him I wasn’t interested in special effects and wanted to concentrate on the human dimensions of the story. We had some disagreements about this and I pulled out 2 and ½ weeks before shooting was to start.”
Ken Russell picks up the story from there: “This film just came out of the blue,” he told Jay Scott of The Globe and Mail newspaper in Toronto. “I didn’t choose it from my storehouse of ideas. Chayefsky had already written the script and they had already lost a director, Arthur Penn. I was in an airport in Chicago when I heard ‘Ken Russell, ring your agent.’ I had been unable to get work in Hollywood -- the cliché that you’re only as good as your last picture is unfortunately true, and my last picture was ‘Valentino’ -- so I called my agent and he told me I had a job.”
A few days later Russell told Tom Buckley in an interview with The New York Times, “I also saw a challenge. For better or for worse, my films are not known for their dialogue scenes. In fact, I’ve been accused of not knowing how to direct dialogue, although, ironically, Paddy said that one reason I was hired after Arthur Penn left the picture was because of the way I had handled the dialogue scenes in ‘Savage Messiah.' "
Russell says the fights between himself and Chayefsky started almost immediately after Russell was hired. The Globe and Mail recounts: “ ‘It started with the paint,’ Russell sneers. '[Chayefsky] didn’t like the color of the paint on the isolation tank. Then it went on to other things. He didn’t like the lighting, then he didn’t like the machinery, then he thought I was making the actors appear drunk in a scene where they were written to be slightly tipsy in a bar. Chayefsky drinks only Sanka. To a man who drinks only Sanka, someone who has had a few must appear totally drunk.' ”
In his book about Russell, author Lanza spoke to longtime Chayefsky friend and producer Howard Gottfried, who painted Russell as a “duplicitious, manipulative ogre. ‘He would make really lousy remarks. Just anything to get Paddy upset.’ “
Lanza recounts this sarcastic exchange:
Russell: You can’t improve on perfection, Paddy. Why don’t we rehearse the scene where [one character] fucks [another character] on the kitchen floor. I’d appreciate your input on the grunts.
Chayefsky: I’m only concerned with matters of dialogue right now, Kenny. In matters of barking dogs, grunting ape-men, and moaning lovers, you have carte blanche.
By the time the movie started filming, Chayefsky and Russell weren’t talking -- though, separately, they would talk to the actors, putting them in the middle of the two men. This led to even more arguing between Russell and Chayefsky.
Saddled with a contract that forced Russell to film all of Chayefsky’s dialogue, The Globe and Mail writes, “Russell claims that with the exception of one scene (which Russell said had to do with some ‘trifling changes’ in the scenes where the main character goes to Mexico to try some mushrooms), he shot every word Chayefsky wrote. If so, he has nonetheless exacted revenge: The actors charge through their words as if being caressed by cattle prods, they mumble, they scream and they chatter with their mouths full of food. ‘Chayefsky,’ Russell smiles, ‘won’t speak to me.’ “
The interviews Russell did with The Globe and Mail and The New York Times were done about two weeks after “Altered States” was released in the U.S. on Christmas Day 1980. The film was generally well-received by the critics and performed well at the box office (For Warner Bros., only 5 other pictures made more money than 'Altered States" did that year.)
Russell was 53 when he made the picture. Chayefsky was 57. Chayefsky declined to talk publicly about his fighting with Russell. All he would tell The New York Times was, “I haven’t seen the picture and I intend to go on not seeing the picture so that when people ask me what I think about it I can tell them I haven’t seen it.”
Despite the fact that virtually every word in”Altered States” was written by Chayefsky, here’s how he insisted his credit read on movie: “Written for the screen by Sidney Aaron from the novel ‘Altered States’ by Paddy Chayefsky.”
Sidney Aaron was Chayefsky’s real first and middle names.
Seven months after the release of “Altered States” Chayefsky was dead from cancer.
Russell died this past Sunday, Nov. 27, 2011, at age 84. Of all the movies Russell made, only his version of The Who's rock musical, "Tommy,' which Russell made five years before "Altered States," made more money at the box office than "Alterted States" did.
I watched “Altered States” again the other night. I hadn’t seen it since it first came out. It’s still a terrific ride that rode the coat-tails of a generation of drug-takers and ends with a very old-fashioned Hollywood message. And it seems to me that Russell handled the sometimes tedious dialogue just right. William Hurt commands the screen in his movie debut as the lead character, and Blair Brown is smart and luminous as his co-star. Support, especially by Charles Haid, is spot-on.
How ironic that Chayefsky parted ways early on with his pal Arthur Penn, who, no doubt, would have delivered a film closer to what Chayefsky probably would have wanted. But I have a hard time believing it actually would have been a better movie.#
The Investigation Into Natalie Wood's Death Gets Curiouser. 'ET' Touts 'The details you've never heard from the witness who's never spoken before.' Huh? She Was Just on TV Two Days Earlier. And What She Witnessed Was Published At Least 11 Years Ago
The witness in question is Marilyn Wayne. I first came across her name when I read the article “Natalie Wood’s Fatal Voyage,” which is in the current special edition of Vanity Fair (VF) that’s subtitled “Hollywood Scandal, Sex and Obsession.” The article about Wood’s death is actually a reprint of an article -- by VF contributing editor Sam Kashner -- that first appeared in the VF issue of March 2000. Unfortunately, the article is not available online at the VF website. So TVWeek purchased a copy of the current special edition of VF to read the article, as I have previously reported.
In that article, here’s what Kashner wrote about Wayne (The Splendour is the name of the yacht Wood had been on the night she drowned): “A few days after the tragedy, John Payne and his girlfriend, Marilyn Wayne, a Los Angeles commodities broker, contacted police to say that they had been sleeping aboard a boat, Capricorn, who was moored near Splendour that night. Around midnight Payne heard a woman yelling ‘Help me, someone please help me!’ The voice was coming from near the stern of Splendour and, Payne believed, from someone in a dinghy. He awakened Wayne, who heard the cries, too. The couple claimed they hadn’t responded because a loud, drunken party was raging on another nearby yacht, and they had thought someone was just ‘playing around.’ Indeed, they had heard a man’s very drunken voice respond mockingly, ‘O.K., honey, we’ll get you.’ They believed the voice belonged to someone at the party, which evidently reinforced their notion that the whole thing was a joke.”
I don’t know if Kashner got the account from a police report or from actually speaking to Payne or Wayne. He doesn’t say in his article, which, again, was first published in VF in March 2000.
This past Saturday, Nov. 19, 2011, Wayne appeared briefly on the portion of the Vanity Fair/"48 Hours Mystery” show about Hollywood scandals that dealt with Wood's death. Here’s what she said:
“I heard a woman calling for help. ‘Help me. Somebody please help me, I’m drowning.’ We called Harbor Patrol several times. No one answered. At 11:25 p.m., calls for help ceased.”
Wayne’s recent memory differs in some key ways from the account in VF 11 years ago. Now, the plea for help included the words “I’m drowning.” And somehow the party on the other yacht and how that confused matters for Payne and Wayne are no longer part of her recollection. Furthermore, in the new version, she and Payne called the Harbor Patrol -- a key element that’s missing from the version VF wrote about 11 years ago.
On "ET," in what that show’s Samantha Harris called her “exclusive interview” with Wayne, Wayne told basically the same story she had recounted on TV two nights earlier.
Wayne added some other flourishes in her “ET” interview as well. After Wood’s death, said Harris, “[Wayne] told me about working on the same floor as the offices of [Wood’s husband Robert] Wagner’s stockbrokers and seeing him there several times. … She claims Wagner and his associate know exactly who she was,” but never approached her.
Then, Harris asked Wayne why she was now telling her story. To which Wayne replied, “Originally I remained silent because of my feelings for the family.”
What? It seems to me that this woman was basically a total stranger to Wagner and Wood, who just happened to be on a boat moored nearby.
Wayne also told ET that she had received an anonymous note saying, “If you want to stay healthy, keep your mouth shut.”
In her petition to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s office asking them to reopen the investigation of Wood’s death, Wayne has yet another version of what the note said: “ ‘If you value your life, keep quiet about what you know.’ I immediately suspected it was related to Natalie Wood's death.”
As I first wrote about last week when we first heard that the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department was going to reopen the investigation into Wood’s death, it seems that most of what the cops are looking at are elements of the case that have been primarily written about years ago, as opposed to some newly found evidence that’s been brought to their attention.
And indeed, my theory was verified by Marti Rulli in interviews she gave last week. Rulli is the co-author, with Dennis Davern, of “Goodbye Natalie, Goodbye Splendour.” Davern was the captain of the yacht -- the Splendour--which was owned by Robert Wagner and Natalie Wood.
Here’s an interview Rulli did with Erin Burnett, who hosts CNN’s “Out Front.”
Erin Burnett (to Rulli): "You turned over information to the Sheriff just a couple of months ago. Was it new or was it information from the book, which I understand was published two years ago?"
Rulli: "It was information from the book and information that I have learned along the course of writing the book. There was nothing really new with the information, but what I think made the difference was because I had sent the [sheriff’s] department after the book was published. But I condensed it. I compressed it. I put it into bullet form with the crucial and critical information standing out. And I think reading the information in that format made a difference because they saw everything in outline form. And these were a lot of things that need attention that this case did not receive in 1981.”
Alex Ben Block, a former TVWeek editor and a first-rate reporter, who is now with The Hollywood Reporter, has dug up the petitions Rulli and Davern and Wayne sent the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, and you can read them if you click here.
I thought that the press conference held by Lt. John Corina of the Sheriff’s Department on Friday, Nov. 18, 2011, was unnecessarily vague. For example Corina wouldn’t even say from whom the department had received information that compelled them to reopen the case.
However, the day before the press conference the sheriff himself, Lee Baca, was very explicit, telling the Los Angeles Times that it was comments made by Capt. Davern that convinced him the case should be reopened.
Furthermore, as I speculated earlier, it seems just too much of a coincidence that the case was reopened practically on the anniversary of Wood’s death 30 years ago, and also coincided with a TV show about the case and a magazine reprinting its original article from 11 years ago about the holes in the case.
Indeed some reporters have speculated about the timing. Here’s “Inside Edition’s" chief correspondent, Jim Moret, talking about this issue on CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360” on the day of the press conference last Friday: “One thing I thought was interesting is the timing. If you Google L.A. County Sheriff’s Office today, all you will see is this investigation. But, coincidentally, today is also the day a seven-person commission is investigating alleged Sheriff Department abuse of inmates at the L.A. County Jail. The Sheriff’s Department could have announced [the reopening of the Wood case] on the anniversary [of Wood’s drowning] or after the TV special if new information did indeed come out that they deemed credible. So the whole aura of the event seemed odd to me.”
Bingo! So now we’ve answered "why now." "Why now," after all this time, when the revelations being made are years old, has the case been reopened.
This answer to “why now?” also helps explain another factor. One reason to re-open the case is to see that justice is done. In this case, even if the new investigation reaches the conclusion that Wagner or someone else should be charged with manslaughter, no one can be charged, since the statute of limitations expired long ago for that offense. Yes, first degree murder charges can be brought against anyone at any time, but it’s doubtful that anyone is guilty of murder one in this case.
Look, I think there’s no doubt that there are more questions than answers in Wood’s death, and that the Sheriff’s Department should have done a much better investigation originally.
VF's Kashner tackled that issue in his original article in VF 11 years ago: “In his 1983 book 'Coroner,' [the former chief medical examiner in the Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office, Dr. Thomas Noguchi, wrote] about his most celebrated cases, [including] the mysterious death of Natalie Wood -- indeed he began the book with it. After acknowledging the crucial questions -- ‘Wasn’t it strange that the two men on the yacht didn’t even know that she had left the boat? Hadn’t she spoke to them? Why had she slipped out to the stern of the yacht in the middle of the night, climbed down a ladder, and untied the dinghy? What was she doing? And where was she going? And why?’ and also ‘When she first fell off the swimming step into the water, why didn’t she simply swim a few strokes and reboard the yacht by way of the step? It must have been only a few feet away from her. Even with the heavy jacket, she could have accomplished this effort easily’ -- he proceeded not to answer any of them. Instead he spun a dramatic yarn about Wood’s clinging to the dinghy as she attempted to propel it to the beach by kicking her feet.”
If one studies all the facts and theories and speculation related to this case that’s been written about over the past 30 years, one can craft his or her own theory of what happened. What I don’t think we’ll get at this point is proof beyond a reasonable doubt.
Nor will we be able to likely hold anyone accountable in Wood’s death if it wasn’t an accident.
And that’s the real tragedy of what’s quickly become just the latest media circus here in Hollywood.#
As the news broke Thursday that "Two and a Half Men" star Ashton Kutcher's marriage to Demi Moore was in fact over, CBS Corp. President and CEO Les Moonves was engaged in a conversation before an audience of hundreds of people in the media business at the HRTS newsmaker luncheon at the Beverly Hilton.
Although the impending divorce was not a topic of conversation, Moonves had plenty to say about the show, and the television business in general, as he was interviewed by Brian Lowry.
"Things happen. Shit happens -- things you don't want to happen," Moonves said about replacing Charlie Sheen with Kutcher on the popular comedy. "The ratings are up and we're happy Charlie is doing well, we're happy how Ashton has done and we’re glad the chapter is closed. There's no good that can come out of things when there's rancor and lawyers involved in a television show."
Lowry started off the presentation by noting that the last time Moonves appeared before the Hollywood Radio and Television Society was in 2006 when the big news was Katie Couric taking over the CBS News anchor desk, and that Viacom’s Tom Freston had been let go because he missed out on the opportunity of MySpace. Cue laugh track.
"Technology has been a friend to the content business, and Netflix and Amazon are paying more for content," Moonves noted about the changes in the past five years, as he continually pounded the point that it's all about content.
"We're the best game in town," he said several times about the television business, which will experience a banner year in 2012, with the influx of huge amounts of political advertising revenue. "The key is to get all the eyeballs watching online to count. It's the same challenges as the newspaper industry faced, but we’re doing a lot better than they did."
CBS is known as the broadcast network with the oldest audience, but Moonves said he hates when he sees that the 18- to 49-year-old demographic is the only one that matters, noting that the average age of the "60 Minutes" viewer is 63.
"There's no such thing as an upscale 18-year-old, unless they're my kids," he said. "A big hit is watched by everyone. The idea of programming for niche is silly."
Moonves said he and colleagues like CBS Entertainment President Nina Tassler, who have worked together for 15 to 20 years now, look at shows holistically from their original broadcast runs to syndication to international sales to what Netflix will pay them for shows.
"But it is better to have 100% of the bucket,” he said, referring to the fact that hit shows like “Men” and "The Big Bang Theory” are produced by Warner Bros., which gets a piece of the pie.
The CBS honcho reflected on the initial rockiness of the merger of CBS and Paramount, the future of Showtime, which he sees as strong, as well as the poor track record of CBS Films. It has released five movies in the past two years, only three of which have broken even and none of which, he said, would be winning any Academy Awards.
"The TV business is much better than the film business," he said. "I'm at my core a TV guy. The TV guys don't get enough credit. They don't get to use the private plane." Unless their name is Les Moonves, of course.
He reflected back on the long run of "Everybody Loves Raymond," in which his brother represented Ray Romano in negotiations with the network and thus, he recused himself, noting that Romano was paid a lot more money than he would've coughed up as the show ran well past its prime.
"I told my mother, ‘Your son is an asshole,’” Moonves said about the situation.
When asked about CBS’s paucity of cable networks, especially compared with NBC’s, Moonves said he wished the company had more, while again stressing that the broadcast model is not broken.
Lowry commented on what he called the class of 1989: Moonves, Bob Iger, Peter Chernin, Jeff Bewkes and Howard Stringer, who, with the exception of Chernin, have all run studios, he said, while wondering whether there was something in the water at the time that made them all such industry leaders with longevity.
But Moonves jokingly shooed aside any possibility that he would be appearing before the same group in 2016. We'll see about that.
On the Scandal at Penn State: Hey CBS News--When You Don't Have It, Don't Hype It. Lessons From Watergate
There’s an exemplary scene in the movie version of “All the President’s Men” that goes basically like this: Washington Post reporters Woodward and Bernstein have been working their asses off on one of their stories about the Watergate scandal. They are pushing to have the story put on the front page of the paper. Ben Bradlee, the Post’s editor, reads the story and asks them a few questions. He then crosses out some words and adds some others and orders the story to be run, but to be buried inside the paper.
Bernstein goes ballistic, arguing that it’s a front page story. Bradlee, says no, they had overhyped what they had, they had NOT really nailed it, and it wasn’t a front page story. The argument goes on until Woodward finally says to Bernstein (and I’m paraphrasing here), “Stop it. He’s right.”
It’s an important lesson for journalists. And sometimes it’s tough to resist the temptation not to hype material that is not worthy, especially when you’re in a very competitive situation on a breaking news story.
That’s the place CBS News found itself yesterday, Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2011, in its reporting on the scandal at Penn State. And unfortunately, CBS News made the wrong call.
NBC had already aired its spellbinding interview of accused child molester Jerry Sandusky -- wherein he admitted to Bob Costas that he had played with young boys but said he did not molest them.
The Associated Press had reported that Penn State coach Mike McQueary had told a friend by email that he stopped an assault by Sandusky on a child in 2002 and then he spoke to police, which was a different account of what McQueary did than the grand jury released.
And CNN was reporting that Penn State was not cooperating in releasing any documents it had about Sandusky. Startlingly, CNN also reported that the public university was exempt from a state law that makes such records public, and, shockingly, that the university may have lobbied the Pennsylvania legislature to be made exempt once it knew it had a problem with Sandusky.
So what did CBS have? Its chief investigative correspondent, Armen Keteyian, had spoken to McQueary, who heretofore had not spoken publicly. Whew! It could be competitive.
But wait a minute. What exactly had McQueary said to Keteyian. With the camera running, here’s that conversation:
Keteyian: Do you think you have any idea when you think you might be ready to talk?
McQueary: This process has to play out. I just don’t have any thing else to say. That’s all.
Keteyian: Yeah. Well, OK. And then just one last thing. Just describe your emotion right now.
McQueary: Ah, all over the place. Just kinda, uh, shaken.
Keteyian: You said, what, like a --
McQueary: Snow globe.
Keteyian: Like a snow globe.
McQueary: Yes sir.
Huh? That’s it? Stop the presses! If Ben Bradlee had been CBS managing editor my bet is that he would have started laughing and then thrown Keteyian out of his office, telling him to come back when he actually had some news.
Instead, CBS hyped the hell out of it, as if McQueary had made some bombshell revelation. They sent out a press release marked “high importance,” and Scott Pelley began his “CBS Evening News” with the story.
He introduced Keteyian with these words: “Armen Keteyian is in State College tonight with another development.”
So now feeling “like a snow globe” qualifies as “another development” in this scandal.
But there was more.
After the interview was shown, Pelley then addressed Keteyian: “Armen, in that brief conversation you had with McQueary on his porch, part of that was off-camera. I wonder what he told you.
Keteyian: “Well, Scott, he’s very rattled by this whole experience. Off camera he was telling me how concerned he was about his personal life, his personal safety, and the future in coaching. Because obviously he’s caught in a very difficult situation here. I think the word shattered or shaken really operates here, because Mike is just in a state where he really doesn’t know, it appears, which way to turn.”
Well, at least that’s somewhat more enlightening than “snow globe.”
What we do know is that McQueary has lawyered up. And in the email the AP was given, McQueary had written to his friend, "Do with this what you want ... but I am getting hammered for handling this the right way ... or what I thought at the time was right ... I had to make tough impacting quick decisions."
Let’s hope CBS handles the story the right way moving forward.#