Open Mic

June 2012

CNN, Fox News and The Huffington Post, Among Others, Screwed Up in Initially Reporting the Supreme Court Decision About the Healthcare Law. Really? It's Inexcusable. We Have Fun at CNN's Expense

Chuck Ross Posted June 29, 2012 at 7:52 AM

Yesterday, on Thursday, June 28, 2012, a number of journalists, including ones at CNN, Fox News and The Huffington Post, initially reported, incorrectly, that the U.S. Supreme Court had struck down a key provision of the healthcare law.

This provision was the one that will require most Americans, by 2014, to get health insurance or pay a penalty. It’s known as the individual mandate.

It’s totally unacceptable that any news organization got this wrong, and absurd that they did.

By way of illustration, we’ll take a transcript of CNN’s screw-up yesterday and play with it. (To read the real, complete transcript of CNN’s special on yesterday’s Supreme Court decision on health care, please click here)

In our version we’ll even make Wolf Blitzer look a little smarter than he was yesterday.

OK, let’s begin. In our scenario, here’s the setup: Instead of it being June 28, 2012, it’s another summer day, some time ago. To be exact, it’s Aug. 12, 1960. And instead of going to reporters John King and Kate Bolduan on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., let’s have Wolf Blitzer call them in from the front steps of 457 Madison Ave. (at 51st Street) in Manhattan.

Blitzer: It’s almost impossible to overstate the importance of this. It’s the signature achievement of Dr. Seuss. And we’re live on the steps of Random House in New York City waiting to get our hands on the new book the moment it’s published. John, what’s the mood? This book could impact virtually every American nursery school student for years to come.

King: Yes, it’s been 18 months in the making. If I was in the studio and had my magic wall we could see how many different rhymes the good doctor uses in his books. It’s been quite a ride the last three years, since ‘The Cat in the Hat’ came out and rhymed 220 words and changed the face of education.

Blitzer: All right, John, hold on a second. Kate Bolduan has got some information. Kate, go ahead. Tell us what’s going on.

Bolduan: This is our first reading. We’re still going through the book, but I want to bring in the breaking news that according to our producer, there’s some funny-looking creature that Sam-I am is trying to convince to like green eggs and ham, and this funny-looking, weird creature just refuses.

So it appears that the centerpiece of Dr. Seuss’s new book is that this strange-looking creature does NOT like green eggs and ham. I’m going to hop back on the phone to try to get some more information and bring it to you, Wolf.

Blitzer: Wow, that’s a dramatic moment. If indeed it’s true that some funny-looking guy does NOT like green eggs and ham, that would be history unfolding.

Bolduan: Creature.

Blitzer. Yes. Creature. We’re going to get a lot more information. This is just the initial headline that we’re getting from inside Random House to our own Kate Bolduan.

I want to bring in Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Sanjay, why would someone not like green eggs and ham? Aren’t eggs supposed to be healthy?

Gupta: I need to know more about the funny-looking guy.

Bolduan: Creature.

Gupta: Creature. Why doesn’t he have a name? Are we sure he doesn’t have a name.

Bolduan: That’s what we’re hearing.

Gupta: Well, that’s a big deal. Are we sure the eggs are green?

Blitzer: I think at this point we still need to say “if” the eggs are green.

Bolduan: Why? I said I was told they are green. Don’t you believe me?

Blitzer: Frankly, no. John King is watching all this unfold as well. John, what else are you picking up?

King: Wolf, just waiting for more of the book.

Blitzer: Hold on John. Kate Bolduan is getting some more information. Kate, what are you learning?

Bolduan: Well, I’ve got to tell you. This is a very confusing book. But I want to make sure we are very clear on the second read.

Blitzer: Huh? Why weren’t we clear on the first read. The book is confusing? Are you kidding me? Usually, when I read these things, when I come to the end I know what’s happened. It’s pretty clear. It sounded as if you were clear. This funny-looking guy -- are we sure the damn thing doesn’t have a name?? -- doesn’t like green eggs and ham.

Bolduan: Creature.

Blitzer: Creature.

Bolduan: Well, it’s very clear that the creature does not like green eggs and ham.

And he could not, would not, on a boat.
And he will not, will not, with a goat.
He will not eat them in the rain.
He will not eat them on a train.
Not in the dark! Not in a tree!
Not in a car! You let him be!
He does not like them in a box
He does not like them with a fox.
He will not eat them in a house.
He does not like them with a mouse.
He does not like them here or there.
He does not like them ANYWHERE!

Blitzer: That seems clear.

Bolduan: It’s all very sillily dense. I’m going right back to it to find out about the rest of it. Hmm. Uh-oh. It appears this is all before the funny-looking creature actually tries the green eggs and ham, if he tries them at all. Wolf, that’s a very important distinction here.

Blitzer: It’s sillily dense? Is that even a word? Are you kidding me? How dense could it be? We’re paying you quite a lot of money to get this right. John King, can you check in on this. Wait, Kate is getting more details. What else are you learning, Kate?

Bolduan: You have to understand, we are reading now that the funny-looking creature did indeed try the green eggs and ham, and he liked them. So it looks like if you read the whole book, he LIKES green eggs and ham.

King: Wolf, I have the book here in my hand, and I’m reading it as we speak, and what Kate says is exactly right. He LIKES green eggs and ham.

Blitzer: Are the two of you nuts? Your entire assignment here was to read the damn book and let us know what happened. But instead of doing that you only read part of it and we’ve told the whole world that the some damn funny-looking guy --

Bolduan: Creature --

Blitzer: Creature does not like green eggs and ham, when, in fact, he does like them. What’s the point rushing onto the air with the wrong information? Some reporters you are.

Later in the day CNN issued this apology: "In his book, Dr. Seuss initially said that some goddamn funny-looking creature guy who does not have a name -- and looks a little like the Cat in the Hat but not really -- did not like green eggs and ham. CNN reported that fact as if that was the conclusion of this landmark book. However, that was not the whole of what happened in the book. Even though all we had to do this morning was read the book and report what, in the end, it concluded, we didn’t do that. We screwed up. Geeze, were we stupid or what?"

So much for our fun parable.

Our favorite real reaction to CNN’s coverage debacle yesterday was this funny tweet from Damon Lindelof, co-creator of the television show "Lost," who, according to The Huffington Post, tweeted that "I am not turning off CNN until they TELL ME GORE WON FLORIDA!"

An Example of Smart Thinking in the TV Business -- How the TV Station Summit Came to Be. Lessons for NATPE?

Chuck Ross Posted June 25, 2012 at 1:58 PM

We’re on the eve of the second annual TV Station Summit in Las Vegas, which I think is one of the smarter events that have debuted in the TV industry in the past several years.

It’s a first-rate example of people in the industry getting together to figure out how to evolve one of our big, tentpole legacy conventions that had lost some of its relevancy into a must-attend 21st century affair.

To learn how the TV Station Summit evolved, I spoke to Mike Mischler, executive vice president, marketing for CBS Television Distribution, which is CBS’s syndication division.

First, a little history. The TV Station Summit is put on by Promax. Promax was founded relatively early on in commercial TV history. According to the PromaxBDA website, “Promax was established in 1956 as a non-profit, full-service, membership-driven association for promotion and marketing professionals working in broadcast media. In 1997, The Broadcast Design Association (BDA), who had partnered with Promax for years on their annual conference, officially joined forces with Promax and became PromaxBDA.”

For years PromaxBDA was a must attend for broadcasters. But as TV continued to evolve, the organization encountered a problem that many trade organizations face, as Mischler explains: “What was happening over the last decade is that the broadcasting side of the TV business was finding Promax as an organization and as a convention and as an event less and less relevant to what they wanted to talk about. So over the years there was an attrition of broadcasters leaving and not attending the convention.”

Mischler, who at one time was a board member of Promax, continues, “As fewer and fewer broadcasters attended Promax, it increasingly became a question here at CBS Distribution about our attendance, because those broadcasters are our clients. Especially in the first-run business. Obviously we sell to cable and everybody else. But on the broadcast side, the station executives are our No.1 clients, and that’s the business area we work in. So if they weren’t going to Promax, or attending in fewer numbers, it seemed to make less and less sense for us to participate."

Clearly this was developing into a major problem for PromaxPDA and its president and CEO, Jonathan Block-Verk.

Mischer says, “Very wisely, Jonathan sat down with a bunch of us on the distribution side, and those of us who had been former board members, and said, ‘What can we do to fix this?’

“Jointly with us, he came up with the idea of maybe separating out a meeting time for broadcast stations to meet with distributors, with networks, and with their station groups on specific days and specific times during these days. Then, on top of that, we’d add a really, really condensed, hyper-focused Promax event that would deal with station issues -- that is, issues that really matter to stations. Thus was born the Promax Station Summit.”

With the TV distributors on board, the next agenda item was when and where. Adds Mischler, “One of the keys to this event is both the timing and the location. We had to find a place that was going to offer a maximum amount of space for a minimum amount of cost. What could be better than summer in Las Vegas? Promax chose Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas last year, and that’s where it’ll be again this year.”

And how does Mischler judge the event with just one year under his belt? “I’d say it was a success last year and, from all that we can tell, that it will be a success this year. And the reason I say it was successful last year is that, for a for a first-time event, the Station Summit drew 500 people. We were deluged with people in our room wanting to have meetings with us on the Studio Day. So for the first time in a long time we were able to talk to multiple stations on one day and really get our messaging out about the upcoming season.

"And the reason I say we think it will be a success this year is that we’re expecting about 300 more people to attend. We’re expecting minimally, for every one of our shows, about 40 stations and 60 attendees that will be rotating through to talk to our people during the day. So, for our Jeff Probst show that we’ll be launching this fall, we’ll have an hour and fifteen minutes or so set aside to talk about the marketing strategy, the advertising campaign -- those strategies the stations want and need to talk about.”

One of the smart things Promax and its collaborators have done in setting up the Station Summit is to concentrate on business issues, forgoing any bells and whistles.

So the Station Summit kicks off Tuesday, June 26, 2012, with affiliate meetings between stations and ABC, CBS and NBC.

Wednesday is Studio Day, when station executives meet with their syndicated programming partners at CBS Television Distribution, Debmar-Mercury, NBCUniversal Television Distribution, Sony Pictures Television, Twentieth Television and Warner Bros. Television Distribution (under its new umbrella, Warner Bros. Brand Networks).

The final day, Thursday, is for Promax sessions and an affiliate meeting of The CW stations. Some of the more interesting sessions include marketing to millennials, successful strategies for launching -- and maintaining -- a daytime talk show, plus the inevitable panels on social media today.

What’s particularly striking about the Station Summit and its connection to local TV stations is when one thinks about what NATPE used to be. NATPE was the marketplace where local TV stations would go every year to buy syndicated programming. With consolidation in the TV business, resulting in fewer owners of TV stations and few program suppliers, that marketplace function of NATPE has withered. So one natural evolution for NATPE could have been this Station Summit.

Instead, NATPE has had a change of direction itself, finding new life by moving from Vegas to Miami to serve a very strong Latin American contingency. The main NATPE convention has at the same time tried to entice more local stations to attend by having more sessions about the ad sales side of the business, but it remains questionable whether that strategy will work in the long run.

Incoming NATPE President and CEO Rod Perth certainly has his hands full meeting the challenges of today’s rapidly evolving video environment. We wish him the best of luck. Wonder if he’s ever met with Promax chief Block-Verk. Might be a good idea.

Emmy, Tony, Grammy and Oscar Winner Scott Rudin Is a Risk-Taker. Why He -- or Some Other Producer -- Needs to Take a Risk on This American Masterwork. And That's No Pipe Dream. Plus, One of the Greatest Performances Ever. And What Happened in 1946?

Chuck Ross Posted June 21, 2012 at 2:09 AM

Not often produced by major theaters, a new production of “The Iceman Cometh” by Eugene O’Neill -- a winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature -- ended its extended run last weekend at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago. As this is being written on Wednesday, June 20, 2012, the entrepreneur who has the option of bringing the show to Broadway, producer Scott Rudin, has declined to do so, reports say. The reports have added that other producers are likely negotiating with Rudin for the rights to take the show to New York.

Let’s hope that’s true. Or that Mr. Rudin, who has never been risk-averse -- he produced “First Wives Club," which no one thought would be a hit, as well as scores of other movies and plays -- will change his mind and bring the play to New York himself.

I saw "The Iceman Cometh" at the Goodman on Tuesday, May 8, 2012, near the beginning of its run. The production haunts me to this day. The performances were all excellent, save one. And one other performance was so dazzlingly spot on, so emotionally right and complete, that it is one of the two most brilliant performances I have ever seen on stage. (The other one was Joe Mantegna in his Tony-winning role as Ricky Roma in David Mamet’s “Glengarry Glen Ross,” almost 30 years ago.) And I see a fair amount of theater.

But up until last month, I had never seen “The Iceman Cometh” performed live, on stage. I was surprised to read, in some material about the show that I picked up at the Goodman, that when the play was first produced -- on Broadway in 1946 -- the production ran just 136 performances, closing five months after it opened.

I think the optimism felt by most Americans -- including Broadway theater goers -- coming off the victory of the World War might have been too much in conflict with a play they found too chilling, both emotionally and intellectually. Indeed, dramas of any sort were not big on Broadway in 1946. I could not find a single major Broadway hit that opened between January and October -- October is when ‘Iceman” opened -- that was not a comedy or a musical. Hit shows that opened in 1946 included “Annie Get Your Gun,” “Born Yesterday” and “Showboat.” And a warm, lighthearted play called “Harvey” was in the middle of its original five-year run of 1,775 performances.

I decided to do a little research into that 1946 premiere run of “The Iceman Cometh.”

My primary sources were newspaper accounts -- including reviews -- that I found at the New York public library. I also learned a lot from the late Louis Sheaffer’s 1973 book “O’Neill, Son and Artist.” It’s the second part of his two-volume authoritative biography of O’Neill, the first of which, “O’Neill, Son and Playwright,” was published in 1968. The two books are based on extensive original research and interviews done by Sheaffer over a period of 15 years or so, and I recommend them highly for anyone interested in O’Neill or theater or the arts in general. The two books are lively and good reads. “O’Neill, Son and Artist” won the Pulitzer Prize for biography.

O’Neill wrote “The Iceman Cometh” in six months; he started writing the play in June 1939, finishing it that November. He was 51 years old and already a Nobel Laureate. He did revisions through the first few months of 1940, and then set the final draft of the play aside.

The action that takes place during “The Iceman Cometh” can be easily explained. It’s about 16 characters, misfits all and many of them alcoholics as well. Most of them live at a particular rooming house and hang out at its first-floor bar. The rooming house is located on the lower west side of Manhattan. The time is the summer of 1912. Much of the dialogue has the characters talking about what they want and intend to do in the future -- their pipe dreams. At the beginning of the play they are waiting for a 17th character, Hickey, a traveling salesman who they all say knows how to party hearty. But when Hickey finally arrives, he has a surprise in store for everyone.

Though the play itself is set in 1912, O’Neill, did not want it published or performed when he completed the final draft in 1940. According to “O’Neill, Son and Artist,” “Aside from his feeling that the times were wrong for the play, that audiences in wartime would be unreceptive to a drama as nihilistic as ‘The Iceman,’ Eugene feared he might ‘crack up’ again, as in 1937, under the ‘nerve strain’ of New York and rehearsals. Unwilling to risk such a possibility even if ‘guaranteed a great success,’ his sole desire was to remain well enough to continue writing -- ‘the only thing that still interests me about my profession.’ ”

Five years later, in August 1945, World War II ended, and in October O’Neill took the train from the West Coast to New York. O’Neill and the Theatre Guild -- his longtime choice of producer for his plays -- planned on a Broadway debut of “The Iceman Cometh” for the fall of 1946.

Writes Sheaffer in “Son and Artist": “Since ‘The Iceman Cometh’ was another of [O’Neill’s] outsize dramas, with a running time of over four hours, there were again differences between him and the Guild over the question of length. O’Neill tried to cut three-quarters of an hour from the four-act drama, but found that he could trim it no more than fifteen minutes without diminishing the play’s impact. Trying to persuade him to cut further, [Guild co-founder Lawrence] Langner had an assistant check the script for the number of times it declares [anything about] “the lie of a pipe dream” [which is a recurring concept talked about in the play], and found that the thought was expressed eighteen times. When Langner pointed this out, the playwright replied in a quiet but emphatic voice, ‘I intended it to be repeated eighteen times!’ ”

So with a four-hour, four-act play set to debut in October 1946, the question that arose next was how to present it. In the New York Herald Tribune of Wednesday, Oct. 9, 1946, Bert McCord wrote in his “News of the Theater” column that “‘The Iceman Cometh’ is of unusual length and will have an early curtain, with an intermission for dinner. After tonight’s opening, the curtain will rise at 5:30 and the intermission will be from 6:45 to 8. Tonight, in order to give the critics more time to write their reviews, the curtain will rise at 4:30. There will be performances every night but Sunday, but, of course, no matinees.”

The decision to have a dinner intermission was O’Neill’s, Sheaffer writes in his biography, and it turned out it contributed to the play’s relatively poor initial reception.

According to interviews Sheaffer later conducted with a number of original cast members, “‘The Iceman Cometh’ ended its final rehearsal at 3 p.m. on Oct. 9, 1946, only an hour and a half before the premiere performance was to begin. The actors felt both tired and keyed up.”

Legendary New York Post writer Earl Wilson wrote in his “It Happened Last Night” column that O’Neill himself participated in rehearsals but on opening night he only came by the Martin Beck Theater to “shake hands with the cast. Then he was given a look at a waiting line of customers -- which to a playwright is prettier than a sunset. ‘I’m going home,’ he said, ‘before the ax man swingeth the ax.’”

And with that, an assistant hailed a cab for O’Neill, who left the theater before the curtain rose on opening night.

According to a report in the New York Daily News, the first actual audience member to arrive to see “The Iceman Cometh” was “movie actress” Jane Wyatt. Of course Wyatt would later become most famous for playing the mother in TV’s “Father Knows Best.”

(Speaking of TV, if you didn’t attend the opening of “The Iceman Cometh” that night, but went by your favorite Manhattan pub instead that had a new device called a TV set, you likely would have seen the second episode of “Faraway Hill” on Channel 5, WABD. It was TV’s first soap opera. According to the New York Herald Tribune, “Faraway Hill” was on several hours after Channel 5’s two-hour block of “news, music and test pattern.”)

The most colorful description of first nighters at “The Iceman Cometh” comes from Earl Wilson’s column: “I’m now a First Afternooner. I mean, Eugene O’Neill made it unchic to be merely a First Nighter. To get to the 4:30 p.m. opening of his new play, 'The Ice Man Cometh,' (sic) I had to start dressing right after lunch. I came into a theater filled with people who should have been at their offices, or at least at a cocktail party.”

Besides Jane Wyatt, other celebrities in attendance, according to Wilson, were Babe Ruth, actresses Dorothy and Lillian Gish, radio superstar Fred Allen and entertainer/actor Danny Kaye.

Columnist Wilson continued: “So even before the cocktail hour had set in, we sat in the theatre lost in the first act. At least I was lost. The play opened with almost all the actors asleep on the stage. In about a half hour the actors woke up but some of the audience was asleep.

“Around 6 we bolted to ... dinner. We went to Sardi’s restaurant. There were 8 columnists there and 4 news items. They served us chicken or turkey and we ate rapidly among the clatter. Eugene O’Neill, the genius, was home, having a quiet dinner, laughing up his long sleeve about people who go to openings of Eugene O’Neill plays.”

Writes O’Neill biographer Sheaffer, the opening night audience “as a whole gave the play strained attention from start to finish. At the close of the hour-long first act, there was a 75 minute intermission for dinner, and the performance, after near disaster in the final act, ended at ten. James Barton (who played the part of the most pivotal character in the play, that of travelling salesman Hickey) instead of resting during the long dinner break and conserving his voice for Hickey’s [last speech], one of the longest speeches in modern drama, played host to a line of well-wishers in his dressing room. As a result, in a scene where Barton should have been most forceful, most impassioned, he was almost inaudible at times; moreover, he ‘blew up’ once or twice.”

That means he forgot his lines, and had to be prompted by assistants off-stage as to what his lines were. “The prompters could be heard from the first rows,” Sheaffer writes.

Sheaffer continues: “Considering the damage to the evening from Barton’s inadequate portrayal, the reviews, though several were sharply critical and others only lukewarm, were somewhat better than might be expected. Almost without exception the critics, including those favorably impressed, found the play repetitious and decidedly too long.”

Indeed, even The New York Times critic Brooks Atkinson, a huge O’Neill fan, wrote: “Writing it for a performance that lasts more than four hours is a sin that rests between Mr. O’Neill and his Maker. ... But if that is the way Mr. O’Neill wants to afflict harmless playgoers, let us accept our fate with nothing more than a polite demurer. For the only thing that matters is that he has plunged again into the black quagmire of man’s illusions and composed a rigadoon of death as strange and elemental as his first works.”

Despite what Sheaffer says about Barton’s performance, especially after the intermission, Atkinson gives Barton and the other actors high praise in his review. Except for his criticism of the length of the play, Atkinson’s review is a rave. “Mr. O’Neill has written one of his best plays,” Atkinson writes.

In a very odd pairing of reviews just five pages apart in the New York Post, the play was both panned and praised in no uncertain terms.

First, on page 35 came Post book critic Sterling North’s scathing review of “The Iceman Cometh.” O’Neill had not only kept the performance of the play under wraps from 1939 until 1946, he did not let it be published either. Random House finally got approval to publish the play concurrently with its performance debut. So North ended up reviewing the published script of the play, not the performance of the play. The play as published ran 260 pages.

Under the headline “Eugene O’Neill’s Turkey,” here’s what North writes in his review: “It is almost impossible to believe that America’s greatest living tragedian could have written such a shockingly amateurish play, that the Theatre Guild would produce it in its present form, or that it would be published for general sale. ... More than 100 pages could easily be cut from this boring and repetitious script. Judging entirely from the printed version of the play I am tempted to say of ‘The Iceman Cometh’ that the action drageth, the dialogue reeketh and the play stinketh.”

Five pages later in the same edition of the New York Post was theater critic Richard Watts Jr.’s review of opening night. Under the headline “Eugene O’Neill’s New Play Is Powerful and Moving,” Watts wrote: “‘The Iceman Cometh’ is a superb drama of splendid and imposing stature, which is at once powerful, moving, beautiful, eloquent and compassionate.” Watts concludes that the play “goes about its story-telling too slowly and at too great length. ... But it is a drama that gives the entire American theatre dignity and importance.”

And so back and forth the reviews went in 1946, when, seemingly, the number of newspapers in New York City matched the number of new skyscrapers going up.

Howard Barnes of the New York Herald Tribune wrote that “the play has a savage undertow and moments of bleak and tragic majesty. That it remains essentially earthbound and monotonous is a flaw inherent in the work. ... What [O’Neill] has failed to do, as Dostoyevsky did, is to shape [the characters'] personal tragedies to an upheaval which might illuminate their existence. The dramatic catharsis in ‘The Iceman Cometh’ is mystical and mystifying.”

Countered John Chapman in the New York Daily News, “Eugene O’Neill’s ‘The Iceman Cometh’ is a magnificent drama -- magnificent in plan, in size, in scope, in depth. It is a frightening play, too -- terrifying and shocking; and its performance by an inspired company is superb. ... I had a feeling yesterday afternoon and last evening that some of my neighbors at the Theatre Guild’s premiere were so busy looking for symbolism, so intent upon finding hidden meanings, so afraid that they might miss the master’s message and risk being considered obtuse that they had little time left for doing the very simple thing and the only thing an audience is supposed to do -- to sit in a comfortable chair and take in a play.”

Here’s what O’Neill himself had to say about why he wrote the play at the length he did, according to Sheaffer’s biography: O’Neill “tried to write a drama ‘where,’ O’Neill said, ‘at the end you feel you know the souls of the seventeen men and women who appear -- and the women who don’t appear -- as well as if you’d read a play about each of them. I couldn’t condense much without taking a lot of life from some of these people and reducing them to lay figures. You would find if I did not build up the complete picture of the group … in the first part -- the atmosphere of the place, the humor and friendship and warmth and deep inner contentment of the bottom -- you would not be so interested in these people and you would find the impact of what follows a lot less profoundly disturbing. You wouldn’t feel the same sympathy and understanding for them, or be so moved by what Hickey does to them.’”

I think that’s exactly right.

Incidentally, “Iceman” had been running at the Martin Beck Theater for about a month when the Guild realized that about 10 percent of the audience never returned to the theater after the dinner intermission, Sheaffer reports. So the Guild received permission from O’Neill to eliminate the dinner. The play then started at 7:30 p.m. and let out at 11:20 p.m. In doing so, fifteen minutes were cut from the original running time by “quickening the pace” of the play, Sheaffer says.

After the original Broadway production of “The Iceman Cometh” closed on March 15, 1947, relatively little was heard about the play for the next decade.

Then, in 1956, a new production of “The Iceman Cometh” came to New York in a Circle-in-the-Square production. Most of the original objections many of the critics had about the play faded away in the light of the new production. Sheaffer writes: “The revival had three distinct advantages over the Theatre Guild presentation: sympathetic direction by Jose Quintero, an unforgettable, indeed thrilling, portrayal of Hickey by Jason Robards Jr., which brought him stardom, and arena staging in a onetime nightclub that proved ideal for the saloon story.”

I was only 4 years old in 1956, so I missed that production. But thanks to the miracle of videotape, I have seen Robards in his signature role as Hickey. In 1960 a version of “The Iceman Cometh,” starring Robards, was taped for TV, directed by Sidney Lumet. You can see it on your TV or computer right now because it’s available to rent or buy on Robards is indeed extraordinary in the role.

I have also seen the 1973 American Film Theatre version of “The Iceman Cometh” starring Lee Marvin as Hickey. Marvin is OK in the role but didn't have any of the flim-flam charm Hickey must exhibit in his opening scenes. (That flim-flam charm was the best part of what Nathan Lane brought to the role in the recent Goodman production.)  The best acting in the 1973 film version of "Iceman" is by Robert Ryan, who plays the second most important part in “The Iceman Cometh,” the role of Larry Slade, who is called a “grandstand foolosopher” in the play.

Which brings us up to last month and my seeing the play for the first time live, on-stage in Chicago. The play was directed by Robert Falls, the Goodman Theatre’s artistic director. He’s a huge O’Neill enthusiast, and directed a 1990 version of “Iceman” starring Brian Dennehy as Hickey. In this production Dennehy was back, this time as Larry Slade.

Falls' deep-felt connection to O’Neill resulted in a production that was stunning on all levels. If the devil’s in the details, Falls’ “Iceman” is Satan’s delight. The sets, the lighting, the costumes are all just right. Outside of Patrick Andrews, who played young Don Parritt, I thought the performances were outstanding. I felt Andrews’ acting cried out contemporary 2012, instead of inhabiting a character in 1912.

That performance that I mentioned at the beginning of this piece that I thought was one of the two best I’ve ever seen was that of Stephen Ouimette, who played Harry Hope, the proprietor of the bar and rooming house where all the action takes place. He more than acted the part -- he inhabited the character. Somehow Ouimette was able to take his life experiences and, with each breath he inhaled and exhaled on the Goodman stage, with each step he took and with each word he uttered, he became Harry Hope. He was so convincing that toward the end of the play, when Hickey has nearly broken Hope’s spirit, I was almost tempted to take out my cell phone to call paramedics to come to the theater to attend to Hope.

John Douglas Thompson, as Joe Mott, was also extraordinary and his performance continues to preoccupy me.

I’ve long been a fan of Nathan Lane. As Hickey, in his opening scenes he was extraordinary. Where I felt Lane was less good was in the crucial last act. I know Lane has become a student of O’Neill and took the part very seriously. My suggestion if the show gets moved to New York is to let Mike Nichols, who has directed Lane before, work with Lane on the last act. My guess is that he’ll be able to coach him into greatness there.

Another reason I want this production to move to New York is purely a selfish one. I want to see it again.

“The Iceman Cometh” is a great play. Part of what makes it great is that, like most works of art, it works on a number of levels. For example, there is clearly a lot of “Last Supper” symbolism going on in the play.

But first and foremost, it works because there is a reality, a realness about it. One might say it’s real because a lot of the play is autobiographical and based on O’Neill when he was a young man and the people he knew then. And all of that is true. But it’s more than that.

O’Neill himself says this best. Again, this O’Neill quote is from Sheaffer’s biography: “It’s hard to explain exactly my intuitions about this play. Perhaps I can put it best by saying ‘The Iceman Cometh’ is something I want to make life reveal about itself, fully and deeply and roundly -- that it takes place for me in life, not in a theater -- that the fact it is a play which can be produced with actors is secondary and incidental to me -- and even quite unimportant -- and so it would be a loss to me to sacrifice anything of the complete life for the sake of stage and audience.”

[Update, July 2, 2012, 9:09 a.m. PT: The Goodman Theatre in Chicago announced on Friday, June 29, 2012 that its acclaimed production of "The Iceman Cometh" will not be transferring to Broadway during the upcoming theater season.]

Critics' Choice Awards Prove They're Ready for Prime Time

Hillary Atkin Posted June 20, 2012 at 7:23 AM

The Critics’ Choice Awards were an important bellwether of this past winter's plethora of film awards, anointing early favorites like “The Help” and “The Artist” that went on to be big winners at guild awards and at the Oscars.

So it is with even greater momentum that two “smaller” television shows -- “Homeland” and "Community" -- go into the full thrush of Emmy Awards season.

Up against formidable competition, the Broadcast Television Journalists Association (BTJA) awarded them top honors in the drama and comedy categories, respectively, at the second annual Critics’ Choice Television Awards, held June 18 at the Beverly Hilton.

In addition to some unexpected and perhaps trendsetting decisions, the “BETJAs” were loosey-goosey in a way that only an untelevised ceremony can be. If you wanted to see Cloris Leachman go off on a fun and funny tangent as she was co-presenting an award for best talk show (which went to Jimmy Fallon’s), or watch Zooey Deschanel and Chris Colfer onstage wrapped in white blankets reminiscent of Snuggies, this was the place.

But why another awards show? Last year's inaugural edition was a luncheon that the organization said was greeted by immediate industry acceptance, thus emboldening it to launch a full-out gala dinner affair recognizing the creative television community.

"The popularity of the major award shows and the attention paid to them in the media creates an opportunity for the producers of high-quality entertainment to reach their intended audience. It is an undeniable fact that more good movies and TV shows are created because their creators know that they have a chance in the marketplace if the critics tell viewers they have created something special," the organization said in the statement.

Its conferring of crystal statuettes to some dark-horse candidates is sure to create a lot of buzz in the business, as is its showcasing of five new shows that have yet to hit air. For most exciting new series, the critics spotlighted Fox’s “The Following,” starring Kevin Bacon, and “The Mindy Project”; Aaron Sorkin and HBO’s “The Newsroom,” starring Jeff Daniels; USA’s “Political Animals,” with Sigourney Weaver; and ABC's delicious-looking "Nashville," with Connie Britton as a country music star struggling to maintain her position at the top of the charts against a young rival.

On the drama side, Showtime’s “Homeland” was up against five major heavyweights who have already accumulated shelves full of hardware: "Breaking Bad," "The Good Wife," "Downton Abbey," "Game of Thrones" and the highly favored "Mad Men."

In another coup for “Homeland,” series star Claire Danes, who wasn't in attendance, took the trophy for best actress in a drama series. Meanwhile, her co-star Damian Lewis was nominated in the best actor category, which was awarded to “Breaking Bad’s” Bryan Cranston.

Yes, he’s baaaaack! And as if the returning AMC series didn't have enough awards traction already, its Giancarlo Esposito snagged the trophy as best supporting actor in a drama series -- up against “BB” co-star Aaron Paul, John Slattery, Peter Dinklage, Neal McDonough and John Noble.

Much as she rose to become a partner in Sterling Cooper Draper, or, ahem, maybe not so much, “Mad Men’s” Joanie, Christina Hendricks, took the crown as best supporting actress in a drama series, for the second year running. The competish: Christine Baranski, Anna Gunn, Maggie Siff, Kelly Macdonald and Regina King.

Was it really elementary that PBS’s “Sherlock" was awarded the trophies for best movie/miniseries and best actor in a movie/miniseries? The real question could be, who is Benedict Cumberbatch and why did critics love him more than Kevin Costner in History’s vaunted “Hatfields & McCoys”?

Having not yet seen “Sherlock,” but getting the message from colleagues that we are sure to get hooked on it, we have only the clue that Mr. Costner felt that this awards fest was important enough to show up -- and the inkling that he will be rewarded by Emmy voters.

The creative team behind “Smash” had the honor of receiving the inaugural Inspiration Award from the critics. The behind the scenes of a Broadway musical drama made a big splash with its midseason debut on NBC earlier this year and is certain to be up for not only acting awards, but honors for choreography, music, and set and lighting design as the television awards season comes further into focus.

NBC's "Community" struck comedy gold with its trophy for best comedy series, up against the darling of the past few years, "Modern Family," as well as other critical faves such as "Parks and Recreation," "The Big Bang Theory" and two new very buzzy femme-centric shows, “Girls” and “New Girl.”

The star of the latter series, Deschanel, got her own statuette, as best actress in a comedy series, tying with Amy Poehler for the honor. "I've never won anything before," said Deschanel -- several times, in disbelief, during an acceptance speech in which she thanked her mom in the audience and sister Emily, star of "Bones," who was the presenter who anointed “Community” in the final award presentation of the evening.

After one of the ensemble’s rather graphic descriptions of the actual trophy and expression of their own shock at winning, it was time to head for the exits – with or without those bottles of vodka that were centerpieces on the tables.

(Click here for a complete list of the Critics’ Choice Television Awards winners.)

It Should've Been the Greatest Panel in Trade Show History. Its Title Was 'Drinking Improves Creativity' -- The Sober Truth: This PromaxBDA Panel Was Somewhat Fun, But Fell Off the Wagon. Why It Was a Wasted Opportunity

Chuck Ross Posted June 15, 2012 at 8:33 AM

It was easily the most anticipated panel at this week’s 57th annual PromaxBDA international conference here in Los Angeles. PromaxBDA is the trade group for, primarily, those who have marketing and design-related positions in the TV industry.

The Thursday afternoon panel on June 14, 2012, was called “Drinking Improves Creativity,” and here’s how it was described in the PromaxBDA program guide: “Recent studies indicate that drinking improves creativity and aids in problem solving. In this first-of-its-kind session at PromaxBDA, we dive into this cutting-edge research (and maybe some cocktails) to get at the deeper implications for optimal work habits for creatives in the meeting and e-mail-cluttered world they find themselves in.”

The 360 seats inside Salon D at the JW Marriott, where the session was being held, were quickly filled up, and, with the remaining SRO crowd, there were easily more than 400 people in the room. Pet peeve No. 1: Why is it, at convention after convention that we all attend, at least one session that the organizers should have realized would pull a big crowd is never put in a room big enough to accommodate all who want to attend that session?

I asked the two people sitting next to me why they were in the session. Both said they were there primarily because it had been talked about as the one must-attend session all week. By the time it was over, however, it had lost its buzz factor.

Here’s how the session went: Upon entering the salon, one could see them setting up a makeshift bar on stage, complete with a bartender. That was intriguing.

Soon, our moderator -- the estimable Michael Ouweleen, senior vice president, group creative director at the Cartoon Network -- took the stage. Ouweleen, who is quite personable and has a wonderful sense of humor, drolly announced that we should all stay for the next session, “Hangovers Make You Young.” Then he showed a slide thanking the sponsor of our “Drinking Improves Creativity” session, Jagermeister.

Next he introduced stand-up comic Matt Knudsen as the first panelist. A clip of Knudsen on Conan O’Brien’s show served to introduce the comic, whose humor is as dry as a martini.

Speaking of which, Knudsen quickly took a pomegranate martini from the bartender, and took a sip as he sat down. “I’m already feeling more confident,” he quipped. Ouweleen was quietly sipping on his own drink, a dark and stormy (dark rum and ginger beer).

After kibitzing with Knudsen for a few minutes, Ouweleen introduced the next panelist, photographer, musician and skateboarder Atiba Jefferson. Jefferson asked for a Budweiser from the bartender, and poked a hole on the side of the beer can near the bottom. Holding it up to his mouth, he downed the contents within seconds, and sat down for his chat with Ouweleen.

The audience was beginning to get the pattern. Ouweleen then introduced the next panlist, Blake Hazard, a singer with the L.A. indie pop duo The Submarines. The group's songs have been featured on some TV shows and some Apple iPhone commercials.

Hazard had her guitar with her and sang a song. Then she drank some vodka.

Finally, Ouweleen introduced the final panelist, Andrew Jarosz, who, like Jeffterson, had a beer.

It was during Ouweleen’s conversation with Jarosz that we came to learn why the panel was called “Drinking Improves Creativtiy.”

As a psych grad student at the University of Illiniois at Chicago, Jarosz was the co-author of a study published in the March 2012 issue of the journal Consciousness and Cognition. The study had this alluring title: “Uncorking the Muse: Alcohol Intoxication Facilitates Creative Problem Solving.”

For years, various artists -- from writers to performers -- have had a close relationship with the bottle. But there has been precious little real scientific inquiry into any kind of correlation or connection between alcohol and creativity.

As explained in an article in Science News on March 28, here’s what Jarosz and his colleagues did: “In the study, 20 social drinkers watched an animated movie while eating a snack. Volunteers then drank enough of a vodka cranberry drink to reach an average peak blood alcohol level of 0.075 percent, just below the current 0.08 percent cutoff for legal intoxication in the United States. Another 20 social drinkers watched the same movie without eating or drinking.

“Men in both groups then completed a creative problem-solving task. For each of 15 items, volunteers saw three words -- say, peach, arm and tar -- and had to think of a fourth word that forms a phrase with each of them, such as pit.

“On average, participants at peak intoxication solved about nine problems correctly, versus approximately six winners for the sober crowd. It took an average of 11.5 seconds for intoxicated men to generate a correct solution, compared with 15.2 seconds for sober men. Both groups performed comparably on the test before the study began.”

The next question to ask is what’s going on to produce these results in the men. “Researchers have a few ideas,” according to an account of the study in The Week. “It's possible that ‘a moderate buzz loosens a man's focus of attention, thus making it easier to find connections among remotely related ideas,' says Bryan Nelson at the Mother Nature Network. Another explanation is that intoxication might aid 'verbal creativity partly by lowering the ability to control one's thoughts,' making the test subjects less afraid to make mistakes.”

Jarosz basically explained the study to us during the session. By the way, Jarosz never explained -- nor was he asked -- why they only did the study with men and not women.

Spurred on by questions by Ouweleen and by the audience in the room, various subsidiary issues were discussed by the panelists. How does one define creativity? Beyond alcohol, what drives creativity? How do you get into the creative zone?

You get the idea. At one point Atiba Jefferson, the photographer/skateboarder, displayed the following picture on the screen:

atiba photo skateboarder.jpg

He said it was the best picture he’s ever taken and that he was plastered when he took it.

Finally, as the panel ended, Ouweleen declared that our bosses need to give us time to be more creative.

Not a bad idea and one that some enlightened companies, such as 3M in St. Paul, Minn., I believe, actually do.

But what was the point of having the panelists and our moderator jump on stage and down an alcoholic beverage before talking?

If Ouweleen and his colleagues really wanted to make the session memorable, here’s what they should have done. At various other sessions and gatherings during the week they should have been asking for, say, a half-dozen male volunteers from the PromaxBDA attendees to participate in the session. Then, they’d take half of them and start to get them up to a 0.075 alcohol level, with the three taking their last drinks during the session.

Then they could have had Jarosz replicate the study live. The three volunteers with the enhanced blood alcohol levels would play the word association game versus the three sober volunteers.

Now that would have been awesome and memorable.#

Viola Davis, Bonnie Hammer Among Top Honorees at Women in Film Event

Hillary Atkin Posted June 15, 2012 at 5:55 AM

When Meryl Streep is in the house, you know it's going to be a night to remember. And so it was at the 2012 Women in Film Crystal + Lucy Awards, presented June 12 at a packed gala held at the International Ballroom of the Beverly Hilton.

Hosted by actress Jenna Elfman, the WIF event honored Viola Davis with the prestigious Crystal Award and Bonnie Hammer, chairman of NBCU Cable Entertainment and Cable Studios, with the organization's esteemed Lucy Award.

Three other individuals were also feted during the festivities. Christina Applegate was honored with the Norma Zarky Humanitarian Award, young actress Chloe Grace Moretz received the MaxMara Face of the Future Award and Anette Haellmigk took home the Kodak Vision Award for cinematography.

In a special recognition of professional excellence, Women in Film also celebrated five women of Twentieth Century Fox: Elizabeth Gabler, Nancy Utley, Emma Watts, Claudia Lewis and Vanessa Morrison Murchison, who were presented the honor by the studio’s CEO, Tom Rothman.

Elfman got the party started by noting the Los Angeles Kings Stanley Cup victory and joking that the crowd was all L.A. queens. "We're here to honor talented people who just happen to be women,” she said.

Without the pressure of an orchestra to play them off for going over time, all five of the honorees were able to fully express their gratitude after each received a heartfelt introduction from a colleague very important in their respective careers.

For Hammer, that was legendary actress Diahann Carroll, who currently stars in USA Network's "White Collar" and is also a past recipient of both the Crystal and the Lucy.

Hammer reminisced about her early days in cable, saying there was plenty of room at an empty table and an openness to fostering a creative culture where breaking rules became the new normal. "I've tried to hold onto that pioneering spirit with all the changes in our business and I say ‘bring it on,’” she said, and noted that more than 50% of her direct reports are women.

The Lucy Award for Excellence in Television that is now hers was first handed out in 1994, joining its sister, the Crystal Award for Excellence in Film, which was inaugurated in 1977. It is named after Lucille Ball and is presented in conjunction with her estate to those whose creative works follow in the footsteps of Ball’s extraordinary accomplishments, particularly in enhancing the perception of women through the medium of television.

Christina Applegate's television career goes back to the 1980s, even before she made a name for herself with the role of Kelly Bundy in Fox's “Married…With Children,” which she played for 10 years. And so it was only fitting that co-star Ed O’Neill presented her with the Norma Zarky Humanitarian Award, for her work in fostering early cancer treatment for underprivileged women.

The fondness and respect between these two obviously runs deep, with O’Neill concluding his intro by calling Applegate "my little pumpkin” and she crediting him with bringing her up.

Applegate, who currently stars in the NBC comedy series "Up All Night," also thanked Streep. "Without you, I wouldn't be standing up here," she said. “I've always wanted to say that, because you've been an inspiration."

She herself is an inspiration to other cancer survivors, having beaten the disease and then starting a foundation, Right Action for Women, to help those at risk detect it early and get proper treatment.

Streep was last seen at a podium earlier this year, accepting an Academy Award, but on this night was there to laud her “Doubt” co-star and fellow Oscar nominee this year, Davis.

The woman often called “the greatest actress of our time” used the occasion to lambaste the powers that be in Hollywood and remind them that female-centric movies are big at the box office. She cited “Bridesmaids,” “Mamma Mia!,” “The Devil Wears Prada,” “The Iron Lady” and the Davis-led “The Help” for grossing $1.6 billion in ticket sales.

“Their problems were significant because they cost a fraction of what the big tentpole failures cost,” she said. “Let’s talk about ‘The Iron Lady.’ It cost $14 million to make and brought in $114 million. Pure profit. So why, why? Don’t they want the money?”

The fact that Streep starred in three of those five features undoubtedly contributed to their success, but she was in no mood to personally take any credit, instead citing stats that underscored the under-representation of women in the film business.

Before presenting Davis with the Crystal, Streep added, “Alice Walker said the most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any. That’s like hearing that women don’t get raises because they don’t ask for them. It’s incredible.”

Streep gave Davis a huge hug before the acclaimed actress delivered an earnest, moving speech. Davis’ eight minutes in 2008’s “Doubt” alongside Streep catapulted her to stardom in the film world after smaller roles and a career on stage that was rewarded with two Tony Awards.

“I’ve spent my whole life trying to be better than my mom,” she began, and explained how she always wanted to express the complexity and duality of people of color.

“I couldn’t do that in a 9 to 5 job,” she said, before concluding, “The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are. My higher purpose is to rise up and pull up and leave the world and the industry a little bit better.”

Ms. Davis, you have done just that.

We All Need a Little Inspiration to Start That Pet Project We've Been Meaning to Start, or Continue, or Finish. This Should Fit the Bill

Chuck Ross Posted June 7, 2012 at 8:25 AM

Ray Bradbury spent a lifetime in touch with his imagination -- and encouraging others to get in touch with theirs.

The renowned writer of fantasy and science fiction, who died this week at age 91, lived most of his life here in L.A.,  the town of dream factories. And though he only wrote four screenplays, he often said he loved movies.

Bradbury gave hundreds of lectures in his life, most of them extolling the virtues of getting in touch with one’s creative side.

George Stevens Jr., who founded the American Film Institute, decided back in 1969, when the first film students came to the Institute, that he would tap into the huge pool of Hollywood talent to talk to the students.

One of the first people he enlisted to talk to them was Ray Bradbury. Bradbury made two more appearances at the AFI talking to students there, and all three conversations are contained in Stevens’ wonderfully engaging 2006 book “Conversations with the Great Moviemakers of Hollywood’s Golden Age at the American Film Institute.”

Bradbury began his Oct. 1, 1969, talk to the AFI fellows by saying:

“I guess the secret of being alive and creative in this world is that you can hardly wait to see and do things. I think every day should be that thing of jumping out of bed and saying, ‘God, another day to do that thing that I love.' That’s really what it’s all about. That is all I ever discuss when I go anywhere, and it’s what I’ll talk about tonight.

“I learned my first valuable lesson when I was nine years old. I collected ‘Buck Rogers’ comic strips. I loved Buck Rogers. I thought he was the greatest thing that ever happened in the world. All my friends made fun of me, and I listened to them and I tore all the strips up.

“About a month later I burst into tears. I asked myself, ‘Why am I crying?’ The answer was that something was gone from the center of my life. I had allowed other people to use their authority against my taste. The first lesson you have to learn in this world is to go by your own taste. Don’t listen to anyone else.

“Be what you are with all your heart and soul, because that's all you’re ever going to have. You have to trust yourself. So I went back to Buck Rogers and said, ‘I love you madly.’ My life was restored, and from then on I never listened to anyone else in the world, because you’re the only person who knows anything about your loves.

“You can’t ever listen to the advice of anyone in this world about the things you need, the things you want, the things that excite you. The only way to explain these things to people is through your work. Those of you who are writers, get it on paper. Become your own critic. You’ll be the best critic you’ll ever have …”

Bradbury then spoke about his lifelong love affair with the movies, which began -- and he said he remembered this -- when his mom took him to see his first movie when he was three years old. It was the silent version of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” with Lon Chaney.

Of the four screenplays Bradbury wrote, the best known is his screenplay for 1956’s "Moby Dick," directed by John Huston. Huston was one of Bradbury’s heroes. Bradbury, after publishing “The Martian Chronicles” and “The Illustrated Man,” arranged to meet Huston for an hour. They corresponded occasionally after that meeting and then, two years later, Huston “called me up [and] asked me over for cocktails at the Beverly Hills Hotel,” Bradbury told the eagerly listening students at the AFI.

Bradbury says that after he told Huston that he had just finished a new book, “Fahrenheit 451,” which would be published soon, “[Huston] said, 'How would you like to come live in Ireland and write the screenplay of "Moby Dick"?’ Boy, was I being hit in the stomach. I said, ‘I don’t know.’ He said, ‘What do you mean?’ I said, ‘I’ve never been able to read the goddamned book.’ There was a long pause, and then he said, ‘Ray, why don’t you go home tonight, read as much as you can, and come back tomorrow and tell me if you’ll help me kill the white whale.’“

Bradbury did just that, and said yes.

A little later Bradbury told the students at the AFI, “Huston was a very smart director. He let me finish the first 50 or 60 pages before he criticized anything. He let me get a real start on the screenplay. Then, after a month, maybe six weeks, I turned in the first 60 pages and very honestly said to him, ‘Now, look, if this doesn’t satisfy you, fire me this afternoon. I don’t want to make money under false pretenses. I’ve known too many screenwriters who are prostitutes, who work 10 weeks, turn in a lousy script, and run. I can’t live that way. I’ve worked my damndest here to give you what I hope you’ll like. If you don’t like it, fire me and I’ll go home with the kids.’

“Huston said, ‘Well, kid, go upstairs and lie down and rest up a little bit, and I’ll read the script and I’ll tell you in an hour.’ I went upstairs in this big mansion and I lay down. I was a wreck. About two hours later I heard the most beautiful sound I’ve ever heard in my life -- John Huston standing at the foot of the stairs calling up to me saying, ‘Ray, come down and finish the screenplay.’ I wept …”

I never met Ray Bradbury, but more than anyone, it was his short stories that made me want to be a writer. I read “The Illustrated Man” when I was in the eighth grade, and it was a life-influencing book. The book is basically a collection of short stories Bradbury wrote between 1947 and 1951, all before I was born.

The stories are timeless. One of my favorites in “The Illustrated Man” is “Kaleidoscope.”

In the introduction to a 1997 reprinting of “The Illustrated Man,” Bradbury wrote, “We theorize about what goes on in the brain, but it is mostly undiscovered country. A writer’s work is to coax the stuff out and see how it plays. Surprise, I have often said, is everything.

“Take ‘Kaleidoscope,’ for instance. I decided one morning 46 years ago to explode a rocket and toss my astronauts out into a wilderness of space to see what would happen. The result was a story that was reprinted in countless anthologies and appeared and reappeared in high school and college auditoriums. Students across the country performed the story in class, to teach me once again that theater doesn’t need sets, lights, costumes, or sound. Just actors in school or in someone’s garage or storefront speaking the lines and the passion.”

Bradbury was passionate about his work. And his stories, so many of which he said began when he started thinking “What if,” are filled with life’s passion.

Please, take a few minutes to read (or reread) Bradbury’s short story “Kaleidoscope,” which I found on the Internet, if you click here.

What if you read it, I think in my fantasy, and it inspires you as it inspired me? How wonderful! And somewhere, out there in the eternity of space, Ray Bradbury would smile.#

Up-and-Comers Mix It Up With Hollywood Legends at MTV Movie Awards

Hillary Atkin Posted June 5, 2012 at 8:13 AM

It's a tribute to the influence of the MTV Movie Awards that so many A-listers show up for the annual kudo-fest. The 2012 edition, the cable net’s 21st, aired live Sunday, June 3, 2012, from a packed Gibson Amphitheater in Los Angeles, featured -- in addition to a bevy of up-and-comers -- people who have had collective decades in the spotlight, including Jodie Foster, Johnny Depp, Mark Wahlberg, Jennifer Aniston and Christian Bale.

And then there was the reigning evil queen of the box office, Charlize Theron. But it was her “Snow White and the Huntsman” co-star and “Twilight” princess Kristen Stewart, clad in tennis shoes and a mini-dress, who stole the show.

This year’s competition was billed as a showdown between "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn -- Part 1" and "The Hunger Games" -- both massive blockbusters that feature love triangles -- although “THG” led with eight noms to “Twilight’s” two.

Host Russell Brand kept emphasizing the battle, calling out both films repeatedly in a schtick mildly reminiscent of David Letterman’s “Uma, Oprah” Oscar shout-out. Unlike Letterman’s groan-inducing routine, Brand’s was met with audible audience approval.

In his opening monologue, he claimed he had another agenda aside from hosting, saying, “The last MTV awards show I hosted I ended up marrying someone who was there, so I will be keeping my eyes peeled tonight for my next wife.”

But much of his attention seemed to be focused on two other men in the audience, Charlie Sheen and Michael Fassbender. Referring to the latter’s full-frontal role in “Shame,” Brand commented, “If I get him too aroused I could lose an eye.” He called out Sheen for looking sober, but having a “gram of cocaine and bottle of Hennessy” under his seat.

Before plugging his new movie “Rock of Ages,” saying it’s the best musical since “Grease” and then taking a predictable shot at John Travolta, he commended Kim Kardashian on her short marriage for taking the heat off his brief alliance with Katy Perry, whom he had famously wooed during his 2009 stint hosting MTV’s Video Music Awards.

With the two favorite films going head-to-head in just two categories -- the biggie, Movie of the Year and another, always hotly contested, prize for Best Kiss -- Stewart, Robert Pattinson and Co. snatched both of those Golden Popcorn trophies from the citizens of Panem.

For Best Kiss, it was the fourth straight year K-Stew has been crowned for getting cozy with R-Patz, who plays the romantic vampire Edward to her Bella. "God, Rob's not here, you guys. I don't really know what to do," said Stewart, who pretended to make out with herself in accepting the award.

But “The Hunger Games” collected a healthy share of hardware, with Jennifer Lawrence taking Best Female Performance, Josh Hutcherson nabbing Best Male Performance, Elizabeth Banks winning Best On Screen Transformation and Hutcherson and Lawrence against Alexander Ludwig taking Best Fight.

Banks’ prize was for one of five new categories in the competition this year that also included Best Music, Best Gut-Wrenching Performance, Best Cast and Best On-Screen Dirtbag.

You wouldn’t think Aniston would be up for -- and win -- in a category called Best Dirtbag, but then you must have missed “Horrible Bosses,” a film from which an almost unrecognizable Colin Farrell was also a contender, as were Bryce Dallas Howard, for “The Help,” Jon Hamm, for “Bridesmaids,” and Oliver Cooper in “Project X.”

The newly crowned dirtbag came dressed in short black leather -- and on this show, nearly every single female on stage showed a lot of leg -- and thanked “Friends” for paving the way for her role as a sex-crazed dentist.

The “Harry Potter” series may be gone, but it’s certainly not forgotten. Emma Watson was on hand to accept the award for Best Cast for "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2."

MTV is often accused of abandoning its musical roots, but the awardscast’s performances showed why there is still “music” in the moniker, with rousing riffs from Fun., Wiz Khalifa and the Black Keys.

One of the high points was Johnny Depp jamming on guitar on two songs with the Keys, in celebration of being given MTV’s version of a lifetime achievement award, its Generation Award, presented to him by Aerosmith's Steven Tyler and Joe Perry.

"This is quite an amazing honor, truly. It's like the Get-Out-Of-The-Business Award, 'All right, you've done too much,'" Depp said in accepting the award, adding, "And it's an honor to be presented by these two legends, Steve and Joe, and these up-and-coming legends, [The Black Keys], so thank you very much."

Emma Stone, soon to be seen in “The Amazing Spider-Man,” received the MTV Movie Awards’ first-ever “Trailblazer Award,” which honors an actor for carving out a unique path in Hollywood.

In a heartfelt speech, the 23-year-old actress honored her comedy idols, Gilda Radner, Bill Murray, Charlie Chaplin and Lorne Michaels, along with other inspirational figures to her, the Beatles and director/writer Cameron Crowe.

"Those people are my creative trailblazers but I am not following any of their paths," she said, suggesting people should find what makes them unique.

With the awards show an ideal venue to plug upcoming films, the cast of "The Dark Knight Rises" was on hand to introduce never-before-seen footage from the latest Batman caper, set to unspool July 20.

Christian Bale, who plays the Caped Crusader, got emotional after a clip reel that had glimpses of the late Heath Ledger from the second film in the series, "The Dark Knight."

“Man, great to remember Heath in that moment," Bale said, choking up. "Wonderful to see Heath Ledger there."

And in another sign of the trilogy’s resonance, director Christopher Nolan was given a standing ovation before the new footage was unveiled.

It will be hard to say goodbye to Batman, just as it was to send off Mr. Potter into celluloid history.

What the Rabbi Knew. A Radical Idea About Sports in L.A.

Chuck Ross Posted June 4, 2012 at 7:58 AM

In the last few days I’ve been asking a bunch of folks here in Los Angeles if they know what the Kings are about to do.

Out of the dozen or so of my fellow Angelenos that I spoke to, only the rabbi knew. And she doesn’t really count because her husband is Canadian.

The Los Angeles Kings, our pro hockey team that’s been here since 1967, is very close to winning its very first championship, and the elusive Stanley Cup.

As a sports team the Kings aren’t just hot right now, they’re sizzling. Here’s a paragraph from an article that appeared in the sports pages of New today (June 4, 2012): “Whether you’re the biggest hockey fan in North America, a casual observer, or have never been on the ice, what the Kings have accomplished through these NHL playoffs is simply amazing. Saturday night’s 2-1 overtime win over the Devils in Newark gave Los Angeles its 10th straight road playoff win and made it a perfect 10-0 on the road in the playoffs.”

The Kings are now up 2-0 in the finals, and only have to win two more games in the next five contests to win their first ever championship, bringing the Stanley Cup to L.A. for the first time in the franchise’s 45-year history. It’s a feat the team never even accomplished when Wayne Gretzky was on the Kings.

But nobody here in town cares. Really. L.A. and hockey? What a joke.

Back when I was in my late teens, I attended my very first hockey game. It was Christmas Day, 1969. As I recall, it was a crummy day for L.A., cloudy and in the low 60s. One of my sports-obsessed friends was very excited, and talked me into buying a ticket to the game with him. He was excited because the Kings were playing the Boston Bruins, who, he explained to me, had this phenom named Bobby Orr.

As memory serves me, the Kings lost 7 to 1, and the game was a lot more lopsided than even that score indicates. The Kings only won 14 games that season. The Bruins only lost 17 games that season.

What I do remember is that this 21-year-old kid, Orr, who was only a few years older than me -- though he didn’t look it -- was really the only player the Bruins needed to put on the ice against the Kings that day. Even knowing nothing about hockey, it was clear to me that he was tremendous. What a skater! Fast and graceful, though he didn’t even do any spins or jumps. He was Fred Astaire on ice. Astaire made history with terrific numbers such as when he danced smooth and wily wearing tails and a top hat. Orr was a smooth-skating, high-scoring, wily defenseman who also pulled off many a hat trick. To this day what Orr did that day 43 years ago remains one of the most impressive performances I’ve ever seen in sports. For Orr, it turned out that 1969-1970 was a record-breaking, hall-of-fame season.

Yet, in all these years since, I’ve only been to one other Kings hockey game.

A while ago I said no one here in L.A. cares about the Kings. I take that back. Canadians who are here care. And I guess coporations who buy expensive season tickets so they can entertain their clients at the games care.

If the Kings do win the Stanley Cup in the next week or so, brace yourself for some pretty serious unlawful celebration hijinks. I wouldn’t be surprised if some rich dude ended up going nuts at Ermenegildo Zegna on Rodeo Drive, ripping an expensive shirt off one of its racks, and running out of the store without paying for it, all the while shouting “Go Anze!” (Who? My point exactly!)

And things may get truly unruly in Bel Air, where a private Bel Air patrolman may allow some of the neighborhood kids to set fire to his patrol car, since it’s a year old and he’s been having trouble with the air-conditioning and wants this year’s model anyway.

Soccer is far more popular here in L.A. than hockey. And even if the Galaxy doesn’t get a lot of support, the World Cup does. And at least soccer is a game lots of kids play here as well.

But I’m really pulling for the Kings to win the Stanley Cup. Here’s why:

A Kings victory would be a terrific opportunity for us to FINALLY get an NFL team back here in L.A. And Angelenos do love football.

I’m thinking we should be able to land the Packers or Patriots. No way, you say?

Well, hold on. Green Bay, Wisconsin, is in the middle of hockey country. If you lived in Green Bay, one of the coldest -- and most sports obsessed -- places on Earth, wouldn’t you kill for a Stanley Cup championship team? Let’s trade the Kings for the Packers, even up.

OK, we could help them build a state-of-the-art indoor hockey rink. Just think about it, Green Bayers -- no more freezing your butts off each fall and winter having to watch the Packers play outside.

No sale? Well let’s ring the doorbell of the New England Patriots. Yes, New England still has the hockey Bruins, who fielded a good team this season, so let’s put the Kings in Providence. Again, it’s the very essence of hockey country there. Let them root for the Buffalo Bills or the New York Giants once the Patriots come to L.A.

And come on, Tom Brady is really a Hollywood kinda guy anyway.

First, though, the Kings have two more games to win.

And I'm sure there will be no feudin' here in L.A. about one thing: Millions more will have watched the "Hatfields & McCoys" here in L.A. on the History Channel last week than will watch the Kings & the New Jersey Devils. So it's time for the boutique Kings to go, championship or no.