Open Mic

March 2011

I Did a Mind Meld With Charlie Sheen and Found Out What Really Happened In His Meeting With Fox (Hint: Think 'Idol')

Chuck Ross Posted March 22, 2011 at 6:11 AM

News item: “Sources familiar with the meeting tell TMZ [that] Charlie Sheen sat down last Thursday with Mike Darnell, president of alternative entertainment for Fox, David Hill, president of Fox Sports, and Peter Rice, chairman of entertainment for Fox Networks Group. During the meeting, which lasted more than an hour, the group brainstormed about various possible projects for Charlie…”

I have no more knowledge about what happened in that meeting than you do. What I do have is this guess, fanciful as it may seem, based on my alter-ego, who had a mind meld with Sheen while I was asleep:

One idea talked about during the meeting is that Sheen replace Steven Tyler on “American Idol.” Tyler, of course, has a deal to be a judge on the show this season, but the scenario discussed is that perhaps Tyler—who, as it turns out, has been the weakest of judges since the show was narrowed down to 13 finalists—gets sick and can’t do the show tonight. His one-time replacement would be Sheen, sending the show’s faltering ratings through the roof.

To see how this would go, “Idol” did a secret run-through with three contestants yesterday--and  Sheen sitting in for Tyler.

First up was Paul McDonald. He struts around the stage, as is his fashion, and starts singing:

"Men men men men, manly men men men!"

"Men men men men, manly men men men!"

"Men men men men, manly men, oo hoo hoo, hoo hoo, oo”.

"Men men men men, manly men men men!"

"Men men men men, manly men men men!" "Men ..."

After the thunderous applause dies down, Randy Jackson says, “A little pitchy. And at one point it looked like you forgot the words. But you know what I like about you, dawg, is that you made it your own.”

J.Lo adds, “I love your smile. As an artist, you are so unique. Did I mention your smile?”

Charlie’s turn: “Hey dude, do you have to take a whiz or something? I see my twins walking around like that, I know they have to take a whiz. I have a 10,000-year-old brain and the boogers of a 7-year-old. You have a 7-year-old brain and 10,000-year-old boogers. You aren’t special and don’t have tiger blood and Adonis DNA. Troll! Not winning!

Next up is Haley Reinhart:

"Women women women women, womanly women women women!"

"Women women women women, womanly women women women!"

"Women women women women, womanly women, oo hoo hoo, hoo hoo, oo”.

"Women women women women, womanly women women women!"

"Women women women women, womanly women women women!" "Women ..."

J.Lo: I love how varied that was. Talk about making it your own.

Randy: I agree. Outside of some pitch problems, you made it your own. Haley is back!

Sheen: Aren’t you tired of pretending you’re a total bitchin’ rock star from Mars? You think people can’t figure you out? That they can’t process you? And you don’t expect them to. You feel you can’t be processed with a normal brain, right? Been there done that. But for me, honesty shines through in my work and also in my personal life. And I get in trouble for being honest. I’m extremely old-fashioned. I’m a nobleman. I’m chivalrous. You’re a goddess, but you’re a troll!

Next up is Casey Abrams:

"Men men men men, manly men men men!"


"Men men men men,

                                       manly men,

                                                               hoo hoo, hoo hoo, oo”.

"Men men men                         men, manly                                      men men men!"

"Men men men men,


men men!"                                                       "M                                e                                n ..."

Randy: Wow. I loved the way you changed it up. You are fearless.

J. Lo: You took a risk. Every week you redefine this whole thing.

Sheen: They’re right. Your mind is a thesaurus. The run I was on made Sinatra, Flynn, Jagger, Richards, all of them look like droopy-eyed armless children. Has anyone ever asked you if you’re bi-polar? You’re bi-winning. You’re different. You have a different constitution. You have a different brain. You have a different heart. You’ve got tiger blood, man. You’re an F-18, bro, and you will destroy them and deploy your ordnance to the ground. Winning!

Ryan: Hey Charlie, this judging gig seems to agree with you.

Sheen: Of course it does. C’mon, bro, I won best picture at 20 and I wasn’t even trying. I wasn’t even warm. Ryan, I’m lovin’ it here on ‘Idol.’ All I’m doing here is putting wins in the record books. I win so radically in my underwear before my first cup of coffee, it’s scary. People say it’s lonely at the top, but I sure like the view. And next week, when I’m not here, you need to get Simon back. We need him and we need his wisdom and his bitchin-ness.#

Whoooa Nellie! When Brands Go Horribly Wrong: Psst--Vince McMahon and the WWE Are No Longer In the Wrestling Business. Publicist Alerts the Media.

Chuck Ross Posted March 18, 2011 at 7:57 AM

If you are a boy baby boomer of a certain age, and grew up in the Los Angeles area, like I did, one of your fondest memories of TV as a kid was watching Dick Lane and wrestling on KTLA live from the Olympic Auditorium in downtown L.A.

Lane’s signature call was “Whooooa Nellie” as he watched some wrestler like Freddie Blassie climb up on the ropes and post of the ring and leap down, stomping another wrestler, or at least seeming to. I remember that tag team matches were my favorites. Reading a blog by Ed Fuentes remembering Lane, it reminded me that he was also endlessly promoting pro wrestling and urging us viewers to attend the matches live.

As a kid getting into almost daily fights and getting stomped by my older brother, wrestling on TV as narrated by Lane was mesmerizing.

If you grew up in New York I guess the equivalent experience was watching Dennis James announce wrestling on TV.

In the book about TV called “The Box” by Jeff Kisseloff, James talked about his days announcing wrestling: “When I went to my first wrestling match, I said, ‘I can’t play this straight.’ Yet, I had to find some happy medium so that the wrestlers wouldn’t hate my guts, so I added sound effects. If a guy was twisting another guy’s leg, I had a crackle bone that I would twist. If he pulled on his trunks, I would tear a window shade. I got hold of a slide whistle when they went up and down. I did one whole wrestling match in rhyme: ‘They’re out of the ring, but now they’re back, and when they do, two heads will crack.’ ”

Most of the wrestlers knew they needed to develop outlandish personalities to distinguish themselves for the TV audience.

Noted one observer in “The Box,” talking about a wrestler from those early days of TV named George Wagner, “When he wrestled as George Wagner he wasn’t a drawing card. Then he came up with Gorgeous George, and television made him a star.”

Another wrestler from those early days, Lou Thesz, remembers in “The Box” that Gorgeous George “got a lot of what we call in the business ‘heat,’ a big response from women. After that, a lot of guys took it upon themselves to come up with some kind of gimmick, like Farmer Jones, who would enter the ring with his pig. I wouldn’t wrestle on the same card with girl wrestlers or midgets or when some idiot brought in a bear, because then you are guilty by association--although I did train a kid who wrestled a bear in Tennessee and kicked the hell out of that bear. He was booked with that bear about a week later. The bear [was in the ring] and saw the kid coming, and it left. The bear remembered him.”

While wrestling never really disappeared from the nation’s airwaves, it didn’t hit a second golden age until Vince McMahon and his World Wrestling Federation (later called World Wrestling Entertainment, or WWE) made it bigger than it had ever been, primarily by taking what had been a local phenomenon and making it national. Many say the event that marked professional wrestling’s great comeback was WrestleMania in 1985 and the appearance of a WWF wrestler named Hulk Hogan. That, in turn, led to the boom of WWF (and later, WWE) shows on national TV, from ‘’Smackdown” to “Raw.”

I hadn’t given the WWE much thought lately when we here at TVWeek received a press release the other day that we wrote up and published as follows:

Drew Carey Inducted Into Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame. Huh? Drew Carey??!!

Comedic actor and game show host Drew Carey is the newest member of the WWE Hall of Fame.

According to the WWE, "Carey established his place in WWE history as a surprise entrant in the 2001 Royal Rumble. However, Carey’s fortunes quickly turned, when the massive WWE Superstar Kane entered the ring, prompting Carey to eliminate himself from the match."

The announcement adds, "The WWE Hall of Fame induction ceremony...will take place at the Philips Arena [in Atlanta] on Saturday, April 2, and the one-hour TV special will air Monday, April 4, at 8/7c on USA Network."

Next thing I know, I’ve received an email from one Kellie Baldyga, a publicist for WWE, DEMANDING that we correct the story. She also copied our owner, Rance Crain, on the email.

What had drawn her ire was the headline. Baldyga wrote in her email, “We are no longer a wrestling company but rather a global entertainment company with a movie studio, international licensing deals, publisher of three magazines, consumer good distributor and more.”

No doubt WWE is into more things than just wrestling, which is its bread and butter, I thought, but this can’t really be a big deal. I was busy and emailed her I’d call her the next day, which was yesterday, March 17.

First thing yesterday morning I received this email from her: “Chuck, did you mean call me today (Thursday)? I apologize but I really need the correction made sooner than later if possible…”

As regular readers to this blog may recall, for most of my career as a journalist I haven’t gotten along with most publicists. Most of them don’t like me, and I don’t have patience for many publicists.

Baldyga was beginning to bother me. First, our headline was perfectly fine and accurate. Second, what was this “demand” about changing OUR headline?

I called her and introduced myself. The conversation then basically went as follows:

Me: Your release says that Carey is being recognized as being an entrant in the 2001 Royal Rumble. I believe that was a wrestling event.

Kellie: No, we don't do wrestling events. They're entertainments. And we don’t call them wrestlers. They’re superstars and divas.

I’m thinking to myself, is she kidding me? Is this woman mad? The company’s official name is World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc. Its crown jewel is an event called WrestleMania. In the best tradition of wrestling on TV since its earliest days, they put on terrific shows (and events), with athletes who are performers and they’ve got storylines that are far more elaborate than any Gorgeous George and Freddie Blassie would have ever imagined. Why would they want to run away from who they are, from what’s made them wildly successful beyond most people’s dreams?

Me: Kellie, I really don't have time for this. WWE presents wrestling events. I'm not going to change the headline or anything in the item. If you'd like, I'll just remove it.

Kellie: Huh? What?

Me: Kellie, I don't have time for this. What do you want me to do?

Kellie: Remove it.

So I did.

Kellie sent me a follow-up email saying “I hope nothing was contentious in our conversation…” She added, “I know the perception is that we are a wrestling company but we are actually much more than that--we are a global media company which is how our Chairman and CEO, Vince McMahon, positions us.”

Whatever. Take away wrestling from WWE and what do you basically have? I don't think WWE is quite as diverse as global media companies such as News Corp. or Time Warner or Viacom, but what do I know.

As I went to sleep last night I kept thinking about what I had read in Ed Fuentes' remembrance about wrestling in L.A., and hearing Dick Lane’s voice in my head from decades ago: “Call Richmond 95171. That's Richmond 95171 to reserve your tickets now!! Whoooa Nellie!"

Behind the Charlie Sheen Lawsuit: Warner Bros. Knew What It Was Getting Into

Hillary Atkin Posted March 10, 2011 at 4:02 PM

Pumped up with a blend of Tiger Blood and Adonis DNA, Charlie Sheen didn't waste any time firing back against Warner Bros. and star showrunner and his hated nemesis, Chuck Lorre, after they fired him on Monday. Team Sheen just unleashed a $100 million lawsuit against the parties, plus punitive damages on behalf of the cast and crew of “Two and a Half Men,” claiming his dismissal was an orchestrated plot to push him out of his contract.

The lawsuit, filed by legal heavyweight Marty Singer, opens by saying: “Chuck Lorre, one of the richest men in television who is worth hundreds of millions of dollars, believes himself to be so wealthy and powerful that he can unilaterally decide to take money away from the dedicated cast and crew of the popular television series ‘Two and a Half Men’ in order to serve his own ego and self-interest and make the star of the series the scapegoat.”

Lorre is bringing out his own legal big gun, famed lawyer Howard Weitzman, who told TMZ in response, “The allegations in the complaint against Mr. Lorre are as recklessly false and unwarranted as Mr. Sheen's rantings in the media. These accusations are simply imaginary. This lawsuit is about a fantasy 'lottery' payday for Charlie Sheen," adding, in an opinion that’s sure to provoke the actor further, "Chuck Lorre's concern has been and continues to be about Mr. Sheen's health."

The suit comes in response to an 11-page dismissal letter sent by Warner Bros. to Sheen on Monday detailing some of his recent rants and warranting that he had committed a felony--although he hasn't been arrested, much less charged with one.

We all know that Charlie is a bad boy and has been in trouble before, not to minimize any of the allegations of violence against women, particularly. But his decadent lifestyle is ancient news--let's say, nearly 25 years old, since Sheen first came on the Hollywood scene--that his employers didn't seem to care about until recently.

It's only a matter of time before some of the roughly 200 crew members of “Two and a Half Men” come forward to tell their stories of what went on on the set--and these actually may work in Sheen's favor. Co-star Holland Taylor has already come out publicly, saying that Sheen was always professional and polite to the cast and crew.

As someone who was on the “Men” set for hours as part of a feature story I was doing on Jon Cryer several years ago, I would concur with that assessment. To claim that Sheen had flubbed some lines and missed some marks in recent weeks is disingenuous to anyone familiar with the inner workings of taping a sitcom. No, there are no David Fincher 50-100 take situations--more like maybe three or four--but no lead actor consistently reels off all of his lines perfectly in one take. Multiple takes are an acceptable part of the process, and taping a three-camera show still moves pretty swiftly, which is why many TV actors relish working in comedy rather than drama.

It's difficult to determine whether the insane level of vitriol and hostility that Sheen has for Lorre is a result of recent events--beginning with the forced hiatus for the actor to undergo rehab--or has been building up over years of the show’s dominant run on CBS. From outward appearances, Lorre seems to have started the battle with his recent vanity card that read "If Charlie Sheen dies before I do, I'll be pissed."

Whether it was the cocaine talking or ego-fueled anger, Sheen started his series of brutal verbal attacks on Lorre by calling in to radio shows before the Charlie Sheen Circus hit the road across all media.

And regardless of whether you agree or disagree with Sheen's lifestyle, his real-life performances over the past few weeks--from network news and talk show appearances to supposedly waving a machete from a Beverly Hills building after a meeting at Live Nation to the widely variant quality of episodes of the online webcast “Sheen’s Korner” and his sudden massive Twitter following--show that he is nothing but authentic. In his words, he's firing "torpedoes of truth."

Unlike many big stars, Sheen has never tried to be anybody that he's not--the talented, funny, profane, wealthy, handsome offspring of a well-connected Hollywood family, who never made any bones about living the “rockstar” lifestyle. Yes, it's complete with trashed hotel suites, ruined relationships, ugly divorces, child custody battles, cocaine, alcohol and hookers--but that's all been out in the open.

Regardless, Sheen has been a multimillion-dollar cash cow for the production company and the network, who face losses of tens of millions of dollars if they cancel “Men” or even put in another actor, thus lowering the production costs.

If Sheen follows the course of sobriety, then makes some wise career choices, this incredibly ugly chapter can have a very happy ending for him--as he plows toward a level of celebrity and notoriety that few have ever achieved. Along the way, there can be T-shirts with catchphrases, there can be cooking shows, and there can also be the “winning” Robert Downey Jr. path--plus so much more. There could also be a complete unhinging, and that would be a painful sight to behold.

It's Not Rocket Science, It's TV. Charlie Sheen Claims to Have a Michael J. Fox Clause in His Contract, So That If Sheen Is Replaced, He Still Gets Paid. Don't Know About That. What We Do Know Is That Warner Bros. and CBS Have the Santa Clause

Chuck Ross Posted March 8, 2011 at 5:54 AM

Rule No.1: Follow the money.

“Two and a Half Men” is too important to both CBS and Warner Bros, moneywise, to just disappear at the height of its popularity.

For CBS, while the company says it might save money in the short term by canceling some episodes, the halo effect of having it on its schedule—both to help launch future sitcoms and to get top dollar from advertisers—is worth many more millions.

For Warner Bros., the way its syndication of the show is set up, there’s no question that the studio makes a lot more money keeping the series in production.

Rule No. 2: It’s the writing.

“Two and a Half Men” is a remarkably well-written sitcom. And those writers aren’t going anywhere.

In Disney’s original movie “The Santa Clause,” as you’ll recall, Tim Allen’s character, Scott Calvin, had to replace Santa after Calvin caused Santa to fall off Calvin’s roof and die.

Given the money at stake, Warner Bros. and CBS will replace Sheen. Most likely they won’t get someone else to appear as Sheen’s character, but, rather, they’ll likely find someone who they think can play off of Jon Cryer, Angus T. Jones and the rest of the cast in much the same way Sheen did.

I asked Tim Brooks, who co-wrote the indispensible "The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows, 1946-Present," his opinion. "I do think it's possible for 'Two and a Half Men' to continue without Sheen, but it will be an uphill struggle," Brooks replied to me in an email.

He added, "The key I think is to first acknowledge the star's departure in some way in the plotline--don't 'pull a Darren' (referring to the replacement of Dick York with Dick Sargent in 'Bewitched' in the 1960s, without notice). Second, make the 'replacement' different in some interesting way, so as to spark some new interpersonal relationships and potential storylines for the show. Long-running shows almost always evolve in that way, rather than keeping the relationships static."

Successfully replacing characters in TV shows is a time-honored tradition. Ask Dick Wolf, who created “Law & Order.”

Or ask Valerie Harper. Harper rose to TV fame as Rhoda Morgenstern, a character on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show" in the 1970s. She was then spun out as “Rhoda,” headlining her own show.

In 1986, she starred in a new show, “Valerie.” Harper played the mother of the Hogan family in the show. The series was a hit, but after second season, I believe, Harper and the show’s producers, Miller/Boyett, got into a creative dispute about the show’s future. Harper was written out of the show, victim of an auto accident.

Another actress, Sandy Duncan, came in, introduced as Harper’s sister-in-law, and the show continued another three or four seasons.

Now, check out this next part. Harper and the producers of the show, Miller/Boyett and Lorimar Telepictures, had a huge legal tussle over her dismissal.

Here’s an account of it from People magazine on Oct. 3, 1988: “On Sept. 16, after five weeks of testimony, an L.A. Superior Court awarded Harper $1.8 million in compensatory damages and a share of the show's profits that could top $15 million. A delighted Harper says the jury's ruling that Lorimar treated her with ‘oppression and malice’ is even more gratifying than the cash. ‘I wasn't thinking of huge money settlements,’ says Harper of her long legal battle. ‘I was honestly thinking of clearing my name and getting my reputation back.’

“Both had taken a beating. In their testimony and in the press, the Lorimar people have been accused of painting Harper as a greedy, menopausal shrew. Lorimar executives described her in court as a woman ‘on the verge of a complete nervous breakdown’ and told the jury that on one occasion, Harper screamed at her producers, ‘Let me go! I'm not going to win an Emmy this way!’ Lorimar President David Salzman testified that after one such outburst during contract negotiations, he scribbled the words ‘change of life’ on his notes of the meeting.”

Later in the article it says, “Lorimar attorney Donald Engel admits that it was hard to overcome Valerie's ‘emotional appeal to the jury,’ even though Lorimar presented evidence that Harper was often difficult on the set and, in July 1987, failed to appear for a taping. ‘We felt we had a strong case that her disruptive behavior was sufficient grounds for terminating her,’ Engel says. ‘We felt she walked out on us.’

"The jury felt otherwise, and Engel thinks he knows why. ‘The guy in charge was a postal worker. I don't think anybody on the jury was anything but an employee in their entire lives,’ the attorney says. ‘They're going to be sympathetic to an employee, and particularly one who is famous. When [the jurors] were discharged, they ran to get her autograph.’ ”

So, trolls, does any of this sound familiar? I’m sure Sheen and his lawyers are studying the Harper case closely.

In a TMZ story today it says, “Sources connected with Charlie tell us ... Charlie has what they call a ‘Michael J. Fox clause' in his contract. When Fox was doing ‘Spin City,’ his contract provided that he would keep getting paid as long as the show was in production, even if he left the show. Ironically, when Charlie took over for Michael, Michael kept drawing his salary.”

Thus Sheen believes he should still get paid even though he’s been fired. However, Warner Bros. believes it fired Sheen for cause, thus nullifying the clause, TMZ notes. Again, more that the lawyers will be fighting about.

The Valerie Harper case is also not lost on Warner Bros. My guess is that Sheen’s case will never get to court, and that eventually a multimillion-dollar settlement will be made.

On Piers Morgan’s CNN show Monday night, March 7, our good friend, TV reporter Bill Carter of The New York Times, cited the success of the Harper show after her firing in his analysis that Warner Bros. and CBS would hunt for a replacement for Sheen. He was agreeing with another friend of ours who was also on Morgan’s show, TV Guide’s Steve Battaglio.

Where Carter and Battaglio differed was in predicting Sheen’s future. Battaglio said Sheen’s only future on TV would be on a reality show, partly because Battaglio doesn’t think Sheen is insurable. Steve said Sheen would be back on TV in a reality show that few will watch.

Carter agreed that Sheen will be back on TV within a year, but probably in a scripted show.

I tend to agree with Carter, though I wouldn’t predict a timetable.

But Battaglio is also right about the prospect of Sheen’s popularity in a non-scripted format. Despite the clear public popularity Sheen has displayed lately, I think most of us will tire of him quickly if he just continues to spew his semi-coherent populisms.

In a recent column I reviewed the 1976 classic movie “Network” upon the occasion of its release on the Blu-ray format.

What’s happened since I wrote that review is that Sheen has really embodied that movie's Howard Beale character, and, for the first time ever we’ve really had a “mad prophet of the airwaves.”

But, in the end, it’s the studios and the networks that win. They have the most power, the most clout. Sheen will get a nice payout, but that’s likely to be the extent of his winning.#

'American Idol': The 'Hamlet' Dilemma

Chuck Ross Posted March 4, 2011 at 8:58 AM

It was a defining moment for “American Idol” this week. Near the beginning of Thursday night’s show, as we prepared to find out results of this week’s voting and who would be the top dozen or so finalists for the season, Ryan Seacrest asked Steven Tyler this question: “Steven, in your opinion, looking at the week, who was better as a group, the guys or the girls?”

To which the longtime frontman of Aerosmith replied, “I can’t say. I can’t say. I’m not going there.”

Really? For Tyler this was “To be or not to be” and he couldn’t handle the truth?

My 15-year-old son quickly shouted out at the TV screen, “The boys.” My wife, my 12-year-old daughter and my 8-year-old daughter—and myself—quickly followed his words by yelling, “The girls. The girls.”

We finished shouting just in time to hear J.Lo and Randy jumping in to back up Tyler, both saying almost simultaneously that the boys and girls were pretty even as a group this week.

Oh my effing god—this “Idol” brain trust couldn’t even give an opinion on this rudimentary question?

Before I express my concerns about “Idol” now that it’s finally live this season, a few words of praise.

Kudos to Messrs. Nigel Lythgoe, Ken Warwick, Mike Darnell and their team for a terrific job of editing and storytelling for the first part of the “Idol” season. Both of the new judges, Jennifer Lopez and Tyler, came off winningly, getting high marks from critics and viewers alike.

And congratulations all around for picking a bunch of contestants who are so talented as well. It’s the best group on “Idol” in quite a while.

However, now the shows are live. And if this week is any indication, the weaknesses that I’ve mentioned before are going to become more and more glaringly obvious in the weeks to come.

As most of us veteran “Idol” fans know, if you have to depend on Randy to be the judge to tell it like it is, the show’s in trouble. Randy is a smart music industry veteran and contestants who don’t listen to him are foolish—and he’s tremendously likable—but 10 years into the show his comments that a singer is "pitchy" and "all over the place" have just about crossed the line from being familiar and almost comforting to viewers to bordering on annoying.

But as Jackson alluded to himself this week, it looks like this season he’ll be the one who’s going to be the odd man out. What he meant is that, for the most part, J.Lo and Tyler are going to have a hard time telling contestants when they’ve just delivered a stinker.

Thus, now that we’ve gotten to the live shows, and we’ve come to see who Tyler and J.Lo are, to thine own selves they shall be true.

That’s not necessarily a good thing.

Come on, to have all three judges this week praise carrot-top Brett Loewenstern’s take on “Light My Fire” was absurd. Simon Cowell, truthteller that he is, would have said something like “Brett, I wish you had never lit that fire.”

Ditto the judges exultation of Paul McDonald’s “Maggie Mae.” Most of you probably liked his rendition of this Rod Stewart classic better than I did, but for none of the judges to be critical at all of this performance smacks of the same ridiculousness as Charlie Sheen’s overuse of the word “winning.”

Ah, “American Idol,” that it should come to this.

Some of you may think that I protest too much about these fundamental problems with ‘Idol’ moving forward, and while I agree that ultimately the singing’s the thing—in my mind’s eye, of this situation I say it cannot come to good.

Because the “Idol” judges, plainly, have a plentiful lack of wit.

Though this be madness, I cannot discern method in it.

So next week or the week after, one of the contestants will do murder to the singing of “Kiss the Girl” from Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid,” and neither Randy nor J.Lo nor Steven Tyler will dare say that something is rotten in the state of Denmark.#

OMG. One of Those Men Who Received an Oscar on Sunday Night. Didn't He Used to Work for TVWeek?

Chuck Ross Posted March 1, 2011 at 7:42 AM

It was 11 years ago in January. My bosses here at Crain Communications asked me to move from Advertising Age, where I was the media editor, to take over the reins at Electronic Media, the company’s publication about—and for—the TV industry. [That publication eventually was renamed TVWeek.]

At that time EM, as the publication was known to everyone, was based in Chicago. As I showed up on my first day there was even bigger news than a new editor in the house—we were moving the publication to Los Angeles. THAT really got everyone’s attention.

As I was introduced to the staff, one of the last people I met that morning was a tall, lanky lad with really bushy hair. He was our editorial assistant. During our introduction I was told that this young guy was the most fun person in the office.

And he was. If first impressions count, I was immediately taken with his boyish charm—as were millions of others who met him for the first time on Sunday’s Oscarcast when he stepped up to the microphone and said, with typical aplomb, “I should’ve gotten a haircut.”

His name is Luke Matheny and he won the Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film.

When I met him, Matheny was in Chicago because he had gone to Northwestern’s School of Journalism.

When we moved the magazine to L.A. four months later, Luke didn't come with us.

He told me that his plans were to go to Paris with some friends of his and make a movie. He did just that. Biten by the film bug, he eventually moved to New York and became a film student at NYU.

The film for which he won his Oscar is a charming comedy called “God of Love.” Luke wrote, directed and starred in it. The movie is also his thesis film project at NYU. I guess if you get an Academy Award with that film it means you’ve passed the class.

His second-year project was a movie called “Earano.” As a headline in New York Magazine said about it, “Filmmaker Luke Matheny Turns ‘Cyrano de Bergerac’ on its Ear” with the film. They also said about "Earano," “The style is reminiscent of Wes Anderson, with a hint of David Lynch thrown in, but—this being Cyrano—it’s also quite romantic.”

You can catch this 12 minute film by clicking here.

Luke’s Oscar winner, “God of Love,” is wonderful. Luke has a superb comic screen presence. It’s about a dart-throwing entertainer who has a crush on a woman who, in turn, has a crush on the entertainer’s best friend. You can get it on iTunes, as Luke mentioned in his acceptance speech, and it’s just shy of 20 minutes.

New York Magazine is not wrong to compare Luke to Anderson and Lynch—heady company indeed.

More accurately, Luke is Luke. He’s one of those people who you know is an original the moment you meet him.

Years ago, in Hollywood, Ernst Lubitsch had a reputation for making comedies of a certain type. Of the quality of those films it was said that they had “the Lubitsch touch.” Filmmaker Billy Wilder, no slouch himself, was said to have had a sign in his office that reminded him, “How would Lubitsch do it?”

Two of Lubitsch’s best movies, in my opinion, are “To Be or Not To Be,” (the original 1942 version) the best movie Jack Benny was ever in, and the particularly quirky “Cluny Brown,’ (1946) which was Lubitsch’s last movie and recently had a short revival at the Film Forum in New York City.

I see Luke being someone who also develops a deft touch for which he’ll be known.

Of course it’s not fair of me to saddle a new young moviemaker such as Luke with a comparison to a film great like Lubitsch, but it’s really an aspiration for Luke, not a comparison.

And winning an Academy Award for your short student movie isn’t a bad start …

[To read a fun post-Oscar interview with Luke at The Wall Street Journal's website, please click here.]


No Big Surprise Winners Made This Year's Oscarcast Hard to Love. And While Host Anne Hathaway was Certainly Lovable, Her Co-Host James Franco Was Less So

Hillary Atkin Posted March 1, 2011 at 5:00 AM

"You look beautiful and hip," said James Franco to Anne Hathaway as they began their hosting duties at the 83rd Annual Academy Awards on ABC this past Sunday, Feb. 27, 2011. "And you look like you appeal to a younger demographic," she replied, thus addressing the apparent reason why the two young movie stars had been named as hosts of Hollywood's biggest night.

Big picture, the move wasn’t as successful as producers planned. Despite the wide popularity and big box office of most of the nominated films, ratings were down 10% from last year, when mega-blockbuster “Avatar” was in contention. Nielsen Co. ratings data showed that while the Oscar program retained 95% of its 18-34 audience from 2010, it tumbled 11% in the key 18-49 demo.

The always highly anticipated show open started with a page straight out of the Billy Crystal playbook as Hathaway and Franco were inserted into films in competition for this year's best picture award, including "True Grit," "Black Swan," and "The Fighter" in an homage to the dream-within-a-dream plot of "Inception," with guest appearances from Morgan Freeman and last year's co-host, Alec Baldwin.

Interestingly, the telecast paid an inordinate amount of tribute to previous hosts, including Hugh Jackman, and in a surprise appearance, Crystal himself. "So where was I …" he began in a tribute to the late, great comedian and frequent Oscar emcee Bob Hope, who along with Johnny Carson is considered the best Academy Awards host in history.

If it was a wink and a nod to pay less attention to the current hosts and to focus on Oscar greatness of the past, it was effective. Franco, with a few rare exceptions, looked like he was sleepwalking through his performance, his gaze focusing on something far off in the upper decks of the Kodak Theatre. A vision of "Pineapple Express 2"?

Hathaway, on the other hand, gave it her all--including an extra special dollop of enthusiasm as she “woo-hoo’d," shimmied in one of her seven costume changes and even high-fived. Both actors have successfully hosted "Saturday Night Live," which was also cited as one of the reasons they were chosen to carry off a 3-1/2-hour live television job that takes intense preparation.

For Franco, also nominated as best actor for "127 Hours” but a total longshot, that meant fitting it in between his schooling, his soap opera role and various other projects. Perhaps he should have taken some time off to really focus on the gig.

His funniest, best moment came in drag, dressed in a pink gown with a blond wig as Marilyn Monroe, as he reeled off the inevitable Charlie Sheen joke. (Just think what fun Ricky Gervais could have had with the latest material.)

The critics have not been kind. The New York Times said "the prolonged effort to pander to younger viewers was downright painful" at times. The Boston Herald noted that "references to the Internet, apps and Facebook do not make a show trendy, or alas, entertaining."

You can't pin it all on the hosts, but this was one of the most boring Oscar ceremonies in recent memory. Not to take anything from their worthiness in being honored, yet all of the major awards went exactly as predicted. Best picture to "The King's Speech." Best actor to Colin Firth, best actress to Natalie Portman. Best supporting actor to Christian Bale, supporting actress to his co-star Melissa Leo. Aaron Sorkin for writing “The Social Network,” the early frontrunner that lost its status when all the guilds went royal rather than digital. The only slight element of surprise when an envelope was opened came when director Tom Hooper, also the DGA’s choice, took the trophy.

The big, dramatic moments came in a one-two punch when Kirk Douglas presented the best supporting actress trophy, normally given out by last year's male winner. Christoph Waltz was unavailable.

The venerable Douglas, who was slowed down by a stroke that still affects his speech, was perhaps a brilliant choice in the year of "The King's Speech." He quickly warmed up to getting a standing ovation and obviously threw out most of what was scripted for him.

It was terrifying, it was thrilling, it was dramatic, it was heartwarming. Douglas, jousting with the onstage escort who walked him out, going hand over hand to the top of his cane, perhaps to see who would actually be able to present the award, as the audience held its collective breath. And when it came time to do so, he teased the crowd. Not once but several times, saying “You know…” just as he pretended to open the envelope. When he read out the name of Melissa Leo, she bowed to him and they had a little onstage flirtation that could be viewed as either lecherous or touching, due to their 40-plus-year age difference. But would Douglas move out of the way and let her have the limelight? It was touch and go there for a moment. And then, drumroll, the F-bomb that Leo let loose as she reflected on the Oscars two years ago when she was nominated but lost the trophy to Kate Winslet.

A hailstorm of negativity has rained down on the actress for her R-rated expressiveness, with one prominent columnist even suggesting that she not let the door hit her on her way out of Hollywood.

It’s a complete overreaction to a genuine display of emotion during one of the biggest moments of an actor’s lifetime. There's something about Melissa Leo that is truly charming, because she is breaking the rules and getting away with it. She’s a workhorse with chops who has been around for nearly 30 years, mostly in television, and some may recall she had a principal role on the acclaimed mid-90s drama "Homicide: Life on the Street".

But it wasn't until two years ago when she was nominated for her role in the indie film "Frozen River" that most people had ever heard her name. Like this year's “Winter's Bone," not many people saw that movie, but Leo stood out and now takes her place among an exclusive pantheon of acclaimed film actresses.

Her F-bomb became a bit of her running joke throughout the show, with references to it by screenwriter David Seidler during his acceptance speech, and fittingly, her co-star, Christian Bale, who referred to the fact that he's gone off the rails with a slew of expletives before.

His infamous on-set tirade of “what don't you f-ing understand" when a crew member walked across the set and the YouTube mash-ups made of it are recent history, and didn't really end up hurting his career, and it shouldn't hers either. Both of these “Fighters” have Oscar on their mantel now, and both provided some of the show’s most memorable speeches. Even if Bale apparently did forget his wife’s name and Leo summed hers up by saying “it’s about selling motion pictures and respecting the work.”

The elusive Banksy would probably agree.