Open Mic

July 2012

A Fond Remembrance of Tom Snyder on the 5th Anniversary of His Death. A Larger Than Life Personality. A Favorite of Many, From Letterman to O'Reilly. He Appealed to 'the jokers and the smokers, the drinkers and the thinkers' Who Watch TV Late at Night

Chuck Ross Posted July 26, 2012 at 7:03 AM

NOTE: This remembrance of Tom Snyder is by Michael Horowicz

Tom Snyder died on my birthday, July 29th, 2007, and I’m still pissed at him for that. Did he think I’d forget him? I was Tom’s producer at ABC, CBS and NBC. (We couldn’t hold a job.) He was the biggest single influence in my professional life.

Tom’s name has come up a lot lately. Most prominently, Bill O’Reilly is quoted in Douglas Brinkley’s new biography of Walter Cronkite as saying when he was growing up, Snyder was a bigger influence on him than Cronkite.

Tom was the greatest TV interviewer. From the first time I ever saw him on the "Tomorrow" show while doing my homework, he held me spellbound.

Tom’s spirit made a TV appearance earlier this month on CNN during Ashleigh Banfield’s now famous exchange with Illinois Congressman Joe Walsh. (“Ashleigh, Ashleigh, Ashleigh.” If you haven’t seen it, go to YouTube.) Banfield held her ground, didn’t get angry, and never got flustered. As I watched it, I thought Tom would’ve been proud of her. He would’ve handled the situation the same exact way. If he were still on the air, he would’ve phoned me and ordered Banfield to be booked on that night’s show.

Snyder would’ve thought Will McAvoy -- the news anchor portrayed by Jeff Daniels on the new HBO/Aaron Sorkin series “The Newsroom” -- was an asshole. Despite all of Tom’s pomposity, he genuinely wanted people to like him, unlike McAvoy. Tom would’ve watched one episode of “The Newsroom” and given up. He didn’t like to be reminded of work when he wasn’t working.

I first met Tom on Labor Day 1982, when he debuted as the anchor on WABC-TV’s 11 p.m. "Eyewitness News" and I was one of his young producers. His assignment was a bad fit from that very first day, when the newscast led with a story by Louis Young about dead gerbils in a pet store fire in Queens. To make matters worse, Lou had no b-roll, so I asked our courtroom sketch artist to drive in from the Hamptons to draw an artist’s conception of dead gerbils on the floor of a charred pet store. It seemed like a good idea at the time. In spite of it, Tom and I became fast friends.

Tom had an amazing ability to ad lib, which I saw firsthand on December 31st, 1982, when four bombs blew up in Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn, all between 10:30 and 11 p.m. It was the work of the FALN, the Puerto Rican terror group that demanded independence from the U.S. I couldn’t keep up with the changing details, and at 11 p.m. we had no script. Tom just said, “Mikey, don’t worry. Give me the latest wire copy and I’ll wing it.” That night, he gave an incredible performance.

But the very next night, Tom couldn’t bear the indignity of having to work New Year’s Eve AND New Year’s Day. When he came up from the studio back to the newsroom, Tom threw his script up in the air, kicked a trash can across the room and shouted, “Well, at least my FICA’s paid off for the year!”

Tom Snyder was great because he knew his audience well. He loved late-night. He said the late-night audience was made up of “the jokers and the smokers, the drinkers and the thinkers.” He respected the audience.

Tom demanded thorough pre-interview notes from all his producers, and then once on the air he would go off on a tangent no one could’ve predicted. When former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara was doing his “mea culpa” book tour, Snyder chose to spend the entire segment asking him about his days running the Ford Motor Company. (“Mr. Secretary, tell me -- how’d you come up with the Ford Falcon?”) When I complained about not asking McNamara about Vietnam, Tom told me he’d already heard McNamara talk about that on other talk shows. “I’m not going over old ground,” he said. “I’d rather talk about Ford.” And so he did.

With Courtney Cox from “Friends,” Tom spent eight minutes talking about the challenges of renovating homes, which both of them were doing at the time. And he made it great television. If a guest was from Chicago, they’d talk about the steak at Gene and Georgetti. But somewhere in that roundabout way of conducting an interview, Tom would come up with gold. The night Dinah Shore died, Burt Reynolds broke down and confided in Tom that he always regretted not marrying her. Tom's Midwestern sincerity and hearty laugh got people to open up. And to Tom, “Mr. Brisket” was as good a guest as David Letterman.

Most of all, Tom loved mischief and to rebel against management. In a story he loved to tell over and over, Snyder was sent to Paris by NBC News during the Iran hostage crisis. He was told not to venture far from his suite at the George V Hotel because in a matter of days a top aide to the Ayatollah would come to Paris for an interview. Needless to say, the $10,000 cash advance he was given evaporated quickly while Tom wined and dined his fellow NBC staffers. So he called back to 30 Rock with a story. “I told them my room was robbed. They said, ‘What did they steal? The money?’ I said, ‘No -- the receipts!’ And it flew!” Within a few hours, the company wired him another ten grand. Note to Brian Williams, one of Tom’s biggest fans -- don’t try that now. The Comcast people probably won’t go for it.

When CBS executives agonized over what the set of “The Late Late Show” would look like, Tom got fed up and told them off. “Nobody ever left a Broadway show humming the set!!”

For years, Tom convinced WNBC weatherman Frank Field that the “network coffee” in the “Tomorrow” show offices at 30 Rock was better than the “local coffee” in the WNBC newsroom. Every afternoon, without fail, Frank visited his friend Tom and grabbed a cup of “network” coffee. Frank still swears it was better than the “local coffee.”

When we were based in L.A., every Thursday Tom would treat me to dinner at the Bel Air Country Club. It wasn’t because he liked me. Members had to spend $300 a month at the club’s restaurants whether they actually ate there or not. I didn’t complain. We’d be joined by other members such as Vin Scully, Jack Wagner, James Woods and Al Michaels, among others. The conversation was salty, and I never dared open my mouth.

Tom also loved dining at the old-time places, such Musso and Frank, The Smoke House in Burbank, The Grill on the Alley and Giambela’s in Manhattan. Once every six weeks or so we’d go to back to New York to do shows. Snyder was a nervous flyer and after landing we’d head straight for P.J. Clarke’s for a burger and a few adult beverages, and Regis Philbin, Kaity Tong, Andy Friendly or Spencer Christian would join us. I have no doubt that if he were alive today, Tom would be a regular at Fresco, and that special chopped salad that’s not on the menu would be his regular dish.

Those trips to New York were magical -- especially for Tom, once he discovered the suites at the Waldorf Towers. He stayed in the kind of apartment Hoover did when he left the White House. So they had to put me around the corner at the Waldorf, and I was happy too.

Anyone who has worked with Tom Snyder will tell you that every moment with him was a treasure. (Except on days he went to the dentist. On those days he was unbearable.) Now, whenever any one of us suffers a career setback, we console each other by saying, “Tom never would’ve let this happen.” He was as loyal to his staff as we were to him.

If you’ve ever been touched by an interview he did, on July 29th, make yourself an adult beverage and salute the master.

tom snyder and friends.jpg

PJ Clarke's, New York, summer 1994. From left: Then NBC executive Andy Friendly, WPIX anchor (and one time Snyder co-anchor) Kaity Tong, WCBS-TV reporter Louis Young, producer Mike Horowicz (the author of this remembrance), Tom Snyder.

Anderson Cooper's Heart Is in the Right Place, But as a Reporter, He's Made a Big Mistake. Makes You Wonder -- What's Going on With His Bosses at CNN? Catch-22

Chuck Ross Posted July 25, 2012 at 6:59 AM

Soon after the news hit last week that a gunman had killed 12 people in a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., CNN’s Anderson Cooper was on a plane to that city.

He arrived in time to do both editions of his signature CNN show, “Anderson Cooper 360°,” live on Friday night.

Soon after the start of the 10 p.m. ET version of the show, Cooper made this announcement on-air:

“Before we go any further, I just want to say that I’m only going to mention the alleged shooter’s name a few times over the course of this next hour. Too often after a shooting like this the killer’s name becomes well known and months, even years later the killer’s name is recalled, but the victims, the survivors' names are not. I think that’s wrong. We’re going to tell you about the suspect -- all we know, all we can -- but we want to focus in the hour ahead on the 71 people shot or wounded last night, including the 12 who died.”

Cooper had expressed a similar sentiment during the first, earlier version of “Anderson Cooper 360°” on Friday night, but hadn’t formalized it as the policy of the program.

During that 10 p.m. version of the show, he repeatedly restated the policy of not publicizing the suspect's name. And most of the time, when it would have been natural for him or one of his colleagues to mention Holmes' name, they deliberately avoided saying the name, substituting the word "suspect" instead.

Cooper was still in Aurora on Monday, and he repeatedly restated the policy for his show at that time as well.

I did not see “Anderson Cooper 360°” last night.

During that 10 p.m. version of the show last Friday, at least once  -- when it came time for CNN’s Randi Kaye to give her update on the alleged shooter, James Holmes -- she delivered her report straight, using Holmes' name when appropriate and not shying away from using it.

However, by the time Monday rolled around, and a panel appeared on the Cooper program to discuss Holmes -- including New Yorker and CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin -- all were playing along with Cooper’s charade, and in at least one roundtable segment awkwardly didn’t mention Holmes’ name when it would have been natural and expected for them to do so.

I say charade very deliberately.

There is no doubt that Cooper’s sentiments about not using Holmes’ name are heartfelt. And most, if not all, of the victims of the shooting in Aurora, and their relatives, are pleased with Cooper’s policy.

But it’s not journalism. It’s not what a news reporter should be doing. A news reporter needs to deliver the news in as straightforward a manner as possible. And that includes telling readers and viewers the names of the people involved when it’s appropriate to do so.

Who is Cooper to say what the public should choose to remember about this tragedy and the players involved in it “years later”?

It’s ridiculous for Cooper to say -- as he has during the reporting on this tragedy -- that he would not mention the suspect's name in the usual course of reporting--except for a few times--because we know who the suspect is.

It’s a charade -- and it’s a slippery slope.

Let’s say, in the middle of Cooper’s broadcast last Friday night or this past Monday, he got word that Jerry Sandusky had just then been convicted by a jury of child molestation.

Taking Cooper’s decision about not mentioning Holmes’ name too often as Cooper’s now official policy about these kinds of situations --that is, carrying his idea out to its logical conclusion, wherein one would then never want to identify perpetrators of heinous crimes to the public -- Cooper would probably, at first, deliver the news straight, using Sandusky’s name.

But subsequently, during most of the show, as Cooper kept discussing this news, he’d have said, “In case you’re just joining us, the jury has returned a verdict in the case of the person accused of child molestation at Penn State. You all know who I’m talking about. I’m not going to mention his name, of course, because I don’t think it’s right that you might remember it. Ever.

“Now, about his victims who testified in court against the perpetrator, who convinced the jury to convict him, well … Hmm. Since child molestation is so sensitive, we’re not going to mention their names either, even though they are adults now. So all you need to know is that the guy who was accused of child molestation at Penn State recently was convicted.”

And where the hell are the folks who are supposed to be overseeing Cooper and CNN in all this? By letting Cooper continue his policy, we have to assume they agree with it.

With apologies to Joseph Heller, Cooper's policy reminds me of Catch-22.

There is only one catch, and that’s Catch-22, which specifies that a reporter delivering news in a straight forward manner is the process of a rational mind. Cooper and his on-air contributor colleagues know Sandusky’s name and should use it. But as soon as they use his name they are in violation of Cooper’s policy and shouldn’t use it. Cooper and his on-air contributor colleagues would be crazy not to mention Sandusky’s name and sane if they did, but if they were sane they couldn’t mention Sandusky’s name.

As Yossarian did before me, I marvel at the profundity of Catch-22.

It's a great catch, the best one there is.

It just doesn’t belong in a newsroom.

'Downton Abbey's' Stiff Upper Lips Get Loose for a Night

Hillary Atkin Posted July 24, 2012 at 7:57 AM

It was beginning to look like a scene out of "Magic Mike." At the end of a raucous and well-received presentation by the creator and cast of "Downton Abbey,” Emmy lead actor nominee Hugh Bonneville got up, turned around and started taking off some clothing.

Triumphantly, Bonneville, a.k.a. Robert Crawley, Earl of Grantham, revealed a T-shirt that read "Free Bates," the jailed manservant on the highly acclaimed PBS “Masterpiece” series, now heading into its third season.

It was a fitting conclusion to a dinner panel Saturday, July 21, before the Television Critics Association at the Beverly Hilton, which had begun with a spoof reel that featured, among other parodies, the one on “Saturday Night Live” that called the Crawley daughters “hot," "hotter" and "the other one" and referred to actress Maggie Smith as "an old lady who looks like a chicken."

It proved that even though stiff upper lips grace many of the show’s British characters, they can still laugh at themselves. And they’re laughing themselves all the way to the Emmy Awards, with the giddiness of 16 noms pervading the proceedings that gave the gathered their first sneak peek of Season 3, set to debut in January.

Series executive producer Rebecca Eaton started things off by noting that ATAS’ awards guru John Leverence told her that between last year -- when the program was in the miniseries category -- and this year as a drama series, “Downton” is the most nominated non-American drama in Emmy history.

Creator and writer Julian Fellows, executive producer Gareth Neame and cast members Bonneville, Brendan Coyle, Michelle Dockery, Joanne Froggatt and Elizabeth McGovern appeared with the newest member of the family, Shirley MacLaine.

If you thought Lady Mary created drama and caused trouble, wait until you see MacLaine arrive from across the pond at the Abbey as Cora Crawley’s American Jewish mother, Martha Levinson. Just her first encounter with Maggie Smith is priceless.

“She and I were lovers in another life," MacLaine joked when asked whether she had previously known Smith -- before relating a somewhat ribald story about their initial meeting at the catering table at the Oscars 40 years ago.

MacLaine’s candor led to several instances of the audience whooping with laughter at her remarks, including her admission that she wasn't a fan of the show before being offered the role. She hadn't seen it, but had heard about it from her hairdresser. Clearly, that's all changed and she is just the newest admirer of Julian Fellowes, “Downton’s” creator, writer and executive producer.

MacLaine’s presence is also giving new depth to McGovern’s character, a backstory come to life. "She's given Cora great humor, strength and flexibility," said McGovern of their American lineage. "Cora is an icon who has gone out of fashion. She's more old-fashioned with her idea of women's strength. She's quieter and more self-effacing. It's nice to resurrect the idea of that kind of female strength.” Added Fellowes, “Cora is less afraid of the future than Robert," referring to her on-screen husband played by Bonneville.

Asked if she shares any characteristics with her character, McGovern replied, "No, I'm a raging lunatic." MacLaine rapidly agreed, again, to more peals of laughter from a crowd not normally known for exuberance.

A huge spoiler for the upcoming season was revealed in the preview trailer, one that will inform most of the proceedings. We have decided to keep it under our corset, but can liberally quote Fellowes.

"This season is about recovery from the war [World War I]. The war brought a tremendous disruption to England. There are chills and spills involved in that for all the characters, some laughs and some tears," he said. "The liberation is going back to issues like women's rights that you wouldn't find in a period novel, but we’re careful to give people reactions of the time."

Dissecting the show further, he said the decision had made to make it more like American television. “There are both big and little plots and that's right for the energy of now," Fellowes said. "It looks like a period piece, but the energy is much more modern."

MacLaine agreed. “What [Fellowes] has done so brilliantly is make 15 characters with just the right amount of time on screen, which fits with the Internet tolerance for emotional knowledge," she said.

The Oscar-winning writer, who has had an illustrious career chronicling the class system of his native England, also addressed criticisms that have been leveled at the show, mainly concerning the historical accuracy of songs that were released at the time or turns of phrase that weren't yet being used in the World War I era.

"The critics were wrong," he said in defending his work, citing specific examples of first usages of colloquial language such as the word "boyfriend," which had first been used decades previously.

And then it was on to a discussion of costume, and how class dictated what was worn and how easy it was to dress, and to disrobe. For the upper class, especially the women, the buttons were so small and poorly located -- as MacLaine experienced -- that another person was absolutely necessary to assist in getting dressed. By the same token, it might be presumed that a woman who came home with said buttons slightly askew had been with a man who was not as familiar with the procedure. Ahem.

But in the end, the lord of the manor seemed to have no trouble unbuttoning his dress shirt to reveal his true sentiment about a loyal member of his household. Stay tuned. More will be shed when “Abbey” comes to light on Jan. 6, 2013.

Some Fun Behind-the-Scenes Stories About 'Lawrence of Arabia.' It's One of the Greatest Movies Ever Made. It Will Be Back in Theaters Soon, and Released on Blu-ray for the First Time as Well. Some Insight Too

Chuck Ross Posted July 19, 2012 at 8:07 AM

'''Lawrence of Arabia' was the first film I saw that made me want to be a moviemaker,'' Steven Spielberg once said. "It was in Phoenix, I was 13 or 14 at the time, and it was overwhelming."

For me, “Lawrence of Arabia,” which I first saw when I was 11 years old, was one of the major reasons I fell in love with the movies, a romance that continues to this day. As a boy seeing this 70mm movie on the giant screen at the (now long-gone) Stanley Warner Theater on Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills was indeed an overwhelming experience.

First and forever are the spectacular images, mostly filmed in the deserts of Jordan. Director David Lean and his brilliant cinematographer, Freddie Young, spent 117 days shooting the movie in Jordan, ending on Sept. 28, 1961, according to movie historian Kevin Brownlow’s insight-filled "David Lean," a 1996 biography of the director, who died in 1991. But the film was far from finished. Production then moved to Spain and then Morocco.

Shooting resumed two months later in Saville. To tell what happened in the interim, here’s one of my favorite stories about the making of “Lawrence.”

Before filming in Spain could continue, screenwriter Robert Bolt had to finish the second half of the movie’s script. Bolt had written the award-winning play “A Man for All Seasons” about Sir Thomas More’s fight between his conscience and his king, Henry VIII, and “Lawrence” was his first screenplay. Writes Brownlow, “There was an urgency about this, not helped by the fact that Bolt himself was languishing in jail.”

It turns out that Bolt had participated in an anti-nuclear demonstration in England and had been arrested. According to Brownlow, “He was hauled into Bow Street Magistrates’ Court and given the option of recanting and swearing not to take part in further demonstrations, or going to prison. As the author of the play about Sir Thomas More, Bolt could hardly recant and he was duly sentenced to one month’s imprisonment. … Bolt counted on being able to continue working on the script in prison, but the authorities forbade this.”

The flamboyant producer of “Lawrence,” Sam Spiegel, “sent a blitz of cables to Bolt,” writes Brownlow, “saying that [Bolt] was delaying the whole project and putting the massive investment at risk; scores of people were going to be unemployed just so that Bolt’s conscience might be satisfied. But Bolt would not budge. Finally, Spiegel went to the prison and met with Bolt face-to-face -- and God knows what threats he made. The other imprisoned [anti-nuclear] activists understood Bolt’s dilemma and urged him [to recant]. And, with a heavy heart, he did. He was driven away from jail in Spiegel’s Rolls-Royce. ‘I have never forgiven him for getting me out of jail,’ said Bolt. ‘It was the most shameful moment of my life.’”

After filming a number of months in Spain, the production moved to Morocco. Lean and Young were four months into shooting in Morocco when producer Spiegel became “determined to bring the production to an end,” Brownlow writes. So Spiegel arranged for the film to have its world premiere in a Royal Film Performance before the Queen of England on Dec. 10, 1962, “giving Lean just four months to have the film ready.”

The assessment of “Lawrence of Arabia” by the late New Yorker movie critic Pauline Kael probably best sums up what many feel about the film. She lauds the “vastness of the desert and the pleasures of the senses that a huge movie epic can provide.” However, she adds, “[This] picture fails to give an acceptable interpretation of Lawrence, or to keep its action intelligible, but it is one of the most literate and tasteful and exciting of expensive spectacles.”

Kael also compliments Peter O’Toole’s performance as Lawrence. My own opinion is that O’Toole’s performance is magnificent. He doesn’t make a false move in the picture. Lawrence was reportedly quite mesmerizing, and O’Toole is mesmerizing as Lawrence. It’s a performance that burns in one's memory as much as Young and Lean’s imagery.

Lean himself agreed that some of the action in the movie wasn’t clear, particularly in the scene between O’Toole and Jose Ferrer, who plays a Turkish officer.

Brownlow quotes a letter that Lean wrote to screenwriter Bolt two days after Lean attended the Los Angeles premiere of "Lawrence of Arabia" on Dec. 21, 1962 (all of the misspellings are Lean’s, who always said he was a terrible speller): “Among the real ravers are Willy Wyler, Billy Wilder, Fred Zinnermann, Richard Brooks, Joe Mancowich and the great old-timer King Vidor … They are all so bloody generous that every one of them has said words to the effect ‘It’s out of our class’ and really mean it.“

However, Lean says in the letter that though Wilder “thinks the film is a tremendous piece of work," Wilder adds that " ‘if my heart had been really touched by Lawrence as a human being I would put it up into the first movie Sistine Chapel stuff. But it wasn’t.’ I think he’s right," Lean continues, "and I think the second half [of the film] is more than half responsible. Funny. Like you, I started off against Lawrence and then gradually started to swing round. As an audience I feel like [Omar Sharif’s character Sherif] Ali about him now. I have a feeling that given the time to be alone with [Lawrence] a little more we could have gone a stage further and given the audience real compassion.”

Lean added that Wilder, like so many in the audience, didn’t understand that what happened between O’Toole’s character and Ferrer’s character in their scene together was more than just a beating.

Lean concludes his letter to Bolt saying, “My own criticism is that the second half shows the forced pace at which you had to jump from point to point. As it nears the end I get a bit stiffled with keeping up. Know what I mean? Not your fault of course, but a lesson not to be forgotten about starting [filming] with an unfinished script.”

My own view of the storytelling of the film is much more akin to an explanation of the movie I once heard given by Martin Scorsese. Scorsese, besides being a tremendous director, is a true student of film and one who has taught about movies at New York University. Here’s what he once told the American Film Institute about “Lawrence of Arabia”:

“There it is up on the screen in 70 mm and the main character is not Ben-Hur, is not a saint, is not a man struggling to come to terms with God in his soul and in his heart. It is a character that, in a way, comes out of B movies. A noir in a way. The man is filled with self-destruction. With self-loathing, I think. This is fascinating to me. And he’s constantly testing himself, pushing himself. Putting his finger in the flame is just one thing. But then going through the desert and going back out. What is he trying to prove? What is he fighting about himself? And there it is up there, on the giant screen.

“The clue is right in the beginning, in the credits. In the credits there is a man getting on a motor bike. The film is ‘Lawrence of Arabia.’ Why aren’t we in the desert? Instead it’s a motor bike, it’s in England, and, I remember, hand-held shots in 70 mm. Point of view of Lawrence of Arabia on the bike. And then, of course he dies and the film is told in flashback.

“But it was the first film to play around with this very difficult character. The character was very complex …

“It was an odd film because it never seemed to be finished. I can’t tell you what the ending is. It seems to go on and on. He’s in a jeep and he sees some of the camels go by and he sorta wishes he was with them I guess and that’s the end. So in a funny way the film is open to be seen again and again, because it’s sort of structureless in a way. Some people would say that’s a negative aspect of it. I don’t know. That it’s a fault. I don’t know. Maybe it’s proven that way because when the restoration was made, David Lean was still putting in more scenes. He claimed he never really finished editing the film. Believe me, that could happen.”

Lean himself would likely agree with Scorsese's interpretation of Lawrence's personality. Speaking to a group of American Film Institute students in 1983, according to the book "Conversations with the Great Moviemakers of Hollywood's Golden Age at the American Film Institute" by George Stevens, Jr., Lean was asked if it was deliberate that the main characters in both "Lawrence of Arabia" and Lean's "Bridge on the River Kwai" "seem to be almost symbolic of all that may be thought of as the worst in British character."

Lean responded, "No. I'm just interested in people who are nuts. I think they make very interesting characters....Lawrence is a fascinating character. This Oxford don on camelback. I mean, it was absolutely nutty."

If you’ve never seen “Lawrence of Arabia,” you’re going to have some great opportunities soon. And if you have seen it, it’s a must to see again. As TVWeek was among the first to announce yesterday, the movie finally comes to Blu-ray on Nov. 13, 2012. And a digitally restored version of “Lawrence of Arabia” will be released to theaters nationwide starting Oct. 4. And tonight, July 19, 2012, the new restoration will have its U.S. premiere here in Los Angeles at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. That screening is sold out. The new restoration will also be broadcast for one night only on Nov. 16 at 8 p.m. (ET) on Turner Classic Movies.

All of this news about "Lawrence" also comes less than two weeks after Peter O'Toole announced that, as he is approaching 80, he is retiring from acting. He was nominated for Best Actor in "Lawrence of Arabia," but lost out to Gregory Peck's performance in "To Kill a Mockingbird."

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Peter O'Toole as T.E. Lawrence in "Lawrence of Arabia"

Diverse Approaches to Diversity -- From Getting Into a 'Pissing Match' to Embracing It as an Opportunity

Hillary Atkin Posted July 9, 2012 at 11:04 AM

It's an issue that has long simmered on the back burner and intermittently moves to the front, as in these early days of summer that have brought a raft of criticism leveled at several showrunners for the all-white-ness of their casts. Specifically, Lena Dunham (HBO’s “Girls”) and Amy Sherman-Palladino (ABC Family’s “Bunheads”) have come under fire for being purveyors of white bread.

Dunham responded by reportedly adding a black cast member to her acclaimed freshman series for next season, although Donald Glover’s casting is apparently still unofficial. Meanwhile, Sherman-Palladino initially said she did not want to get into a public argument (OK, she actually termed their contretemps a “pissing match”) with “fellow” female showrunner Shonda Rhimes, who criticized her on Twitter for the lack of any people of color on the new program about young ballerinas.

For those of you who missed it, Sherman-Palladino, best known for creating "Gilmore Girls," said in an interview that she didn't have a big budget for casting, was under a great deal of time pressure to cast the pilot and that she felt unsupported by other women in the industry.

Read between the lines: She was referring specifically to Rhimes, after pointing out the latter’s success with multiple shows including "Grey's Anatomy,” “Private Practice” and "Scandal."

"I don't do message shows. I don't give a shit who you learn your life from. Someone said, 'Oh god, I hope we don't see the eating disorder show. You won't because I don't give a flying f--- about that," Sherman-Palladino was quoted as saying, perhaps adding fuel to the fire but also planting her firmly on the short list of people in Hollywood who say what they really think.

The lack of diversity accusation cannot be leveled at Oxygen’s “The Glee Project," currently in the midst of its second season. For those who haven't caught it yet, the program features contestants vying for a seven-episode guest arc on Fox’s “Glee” under the tutelage of its creator, Ryan Murphy, and other mentors including casting director Robert Ulrich, choreographer Zach Woodlee and vocal producer Nikki Anders.

The 14 contenders, currently down to nine, are culled through intensive rounds of workshops, singing, dancing and acting-based assignments as the creative forces of "Glee," including guest mentors such as Lea Michele and Kevin McHale, make judgments on who has what it takes to be one of the next new faces on the award-winning show.

Many of those faces are of color. One of contestants recently eliminated, Tyler Ford, epitomized several shades of census with his ethnicity -- half black, half white, Jewish and transgender -- and was considered by many to be an inspiration because of his diverse background.

To its credit, “The Glee Project” spotlights not only ethnic diversity, but also disability, with one of this season's contestants confined to a wheelchair and another who is blind. Another aspirant has been diagnosed with severe ADHD and low-spectral autism.

Each episode has a theme, ranging from the initial episode’s “Individuality” to the recent “Vulnerability,” during which Oxygen aired an anti-bullying PSA starring “Glee’s” Cory Monteith as part of an ongoing partnership with The Bully Project, an organization dedicated to ending bullying.

In a similar show of commitment, this reality competition show seems dedicated to busting some stereotypes and giving opportunities to people who because of their disabilities may have been shoved to the margins of society.

Perhaps one of its talented performers could also join the cast of “Bunheads.”

(“The Glee Project” airs Tuesdays on Oxygen at 10 p.m. ET/PT.)

Figuring Out Aaron Sorkin and HBO's 'Newsroom.' If You Miss Jane Fonda's Debut in 'Newsroom' on Sunday, You'll Likely Be Missing an Emmy-Winning Performance

Chuck Ross Posted July 6, 2012 at 9:15 AM

I’m a big fan of Aaron Sorkin. Well, let me amend that. I’m a big fan of Aaron Sorkin, screenwriter. I’ve seen “The Social Network” half a dozen times, and never tire of it. Dazzling screenplay, for which Sorkin justly won the Oscar.

I’ve seen “Moneyball” three times. While I didn’t like it as much as “The Social Network,” I thought the screenplay especially was first-rate. Sorkin co-wrote the screenplay for this movie with Steve Zaillian, and the screenplay was nominated for an Oscar, but didn’t win.

Having liked Sorkin’s last two projects so much, I was very much looking forward to “Newsroom,” the Sorkin-created and penned TV series about a cable news show that debuted on HBO three weeks ago.

It was during the middle of watching an advance DVD of the fourth episode of the series that I had my Oprah “ah-ha” moment.

Sorkin is a far better screenwriter than a writer of TV series. There’s not enough time in a single two-hour movie for him to indulge his worst habit -- the soap box preacher in him -- for more than a few minutes. Or perhaps it’s that feature films are more a director’s medium than a writer’s, and someone like “Social Network” director David Fincher is able to keep Sorkin reined in.

Unfortunately, unleash Sorkin in the longer form of a TV series -- even one, like “Newsroom,” that only has a season made up of 10 episodes that are about an hour each in length -- and it’s like unleashing a kid in a candy store unsupervised to overindulge at his leisure.

Similar to his “Sports Night” and “The West Wing,” Sorkin is both the creator and principal writer of “Newsroom.” In an HBO-released description of the show Sorkin said this about why he chose the newsroom setting for the series: “Somewhere along the way, journalists went from heroic to derided and I wanted to write about a group of journalists who are doing their best to do the news well -- reaching unrealistically high and slipping on a lot of banana peels and doing it all in the name of an honorable mission.”

He added, “I spent time being a fly on the wall in newsrooms ranging from Fox to CNN to MSNBC to truTV.” He also said he met with a lot of “heavyweights” in the news business and “basically I asked them two questions: What would a utopian news broadcast be, and what’s stopping you from doing it.”

Sure enough, in episode one, after a too-preachy speech about what’s wrong with America, we find “Newsroom’s” main character, news anchor Will McAvoy (played by Jeff Daniels as a cross between an out-of-control Charlie Sheen and a smartest-person-in-the-room, holier-than-thou Edward R. Murrow), reinventing his newscast.

Now here’s one of the weirder aspects of “Newsroom.” At the beginning of the 10-episode first season, Sorkin sets it in 2010. Thus we have this major scene in the first episode -- that’s terrifically edited -- of the revamped newscast that’s all about the explosion of the British Petroleum oil-drilling platform off the coast of Louisiana and the subsequent oil spill.

The conceit here is that McAvoy’s newscast focuses on the spill part, which, according to the show, most newscasts did not do initially.

But the problem is that none of us in the audience remember that. What we DO recall is hours and hours of coverage on networks such as CNN on the oil spill. So the whole point Sorkin is trying to make, about “News Night” being a "utopian" newscast such as one that hasn’t been seen on TV since the 1950s and 1960s, is totally lost.

Episode two, which premiered last Sunday, July 1, was set in April 2010, and “Newsroom” showcased the then just passed American Immigrant Act by the Arizona legislature. This episode, in which the newscast quickly went south, was one exemplifying Sorkin’s notion of “slipping on a lot of banana peels and doing it all in the name of an honorable mission.”

[Spoiler Alert] The third episode of the series -- which is scheduled to be aired this Sunday, July 8 -- starts in May 2010 and goes through November 2010, focusing on the 2010 midterm elections and the Tea Party in particular.

The episode starts with McAvoy, again, telling viewers how his nightly newscast was going to be different from everyone else’s. And then there’s his big attack on the Tea Party, best summarized when McAvoy says that the Tea Party has been “co-opted by the radical right, which, in turn, has enslaved the Republican middle.”

In one “gotcha” moment he informs some Tea Party true-believers about the money that’s coming into their movement from the Koch brothers, David and Charles. The two Tea Party members have never heard of them. Again, it’s supposed to be illustrative of the revelatory and fresh insight “News Night” is bringing to the media scene. But watching this episode today, in 2012, all we viewers recall is that the monies given by the Koch brothers -- along with who they are and what their political leanings are -- has been talked about a lot in the media.

All of this is intertwined, week in and week out, with one particular interoffice romantic triangle as well as the romantic tension between McAvoy and his executive producer, who used to date. Unfortunately, too much of the latter is preachy as well as just annoying, especially the way Sorkin makes the EP as weak in her personal life as she is strong in her professional life.

In this Sunday’s episode, we get to the best scene of the series thus far. It's the series debut of Jane Fonda as Leona Lansing, the CEO of Atlantis World Media, the company that owns ACN, the cable network on which "News Night" airs. Fonda has said she’s in three episodes this season. I think she’ll win an Emmy just for her performance in this Sunday’s episode.

She’s only in the show briefly, near the end. But Sorkin has given her a humdinger of a speech. It’s pretty much what you’d expect a top-notch, no-nonsense business CEO to say, but it’s Sorkin at his best, matched by a great performance. It reminds me of Jack Nicholson, who was Oscar-nominated for delivering Sorkin’s “You can’t HANDLE the truth” speech in “A Few Good Men.”

I’ve read that fewer viewers watched the second episode of “Newsroom” than the debut episode. That doesn’t surprise me. And I’ll bet HBO executives weren’t surprised either, as they announced a second season of the series before the ratings for episode two were made public.

And I’m sure HBO likes being in business with Sorkin. He should thank them down the road by writing a movie for them. I’ll bet it’ll be fantastic, especially if it’s an adaptation and has a very strong-willed director who can rein him in.

Here's a fun must-watch mash-up of Sorkin using some of his best lines in more than one show, as he cribs from himself:

Fakin' it: Why The New York Times Culture Editor's Defense of Alessandra Stanley's Reporting on a Segment That Never Aired is BS

Chuck Ross Posted July 3, 2012 at 8:01 AM

According to Steve Myers at Poynter.org -- who writes news items about journalism -- “New York Times Culture Editor Jonathan Landman said he and Executive Editor Jill Abramson accept some of the responsibility for Alessandra Stanley’s mistakes in a story last week about Ann Curry’s farewell episode of the ‘Today’ show.

“The editors had encouraged Stanley to watch the morning show as well as coverage of the Supreme Court’s health care ruling. ‘We probably loaded on more than was reasonable,’ Landman said.”

TV critic Stanley’s report that ran in The New York Times had two major errors. As Myers notes, one of the errors was writing that Savannah Guthrie, who replaced Curry as co-anchor, appeared on that edition of "Today," which was broadcast on Thursday, June 28, 2012. Guthrie was not on that segment.

Furthermore, Stanley wrote, "Highlight reels are the gold watch of television news, and 'Today' showed a long, affectionate one of Ms. Curry, from her first days in local news to her trip to the South Pole where she planted the NBC flag. It included goofy moments clowning on the set, and also a tableau that seemed -- under the circumstances -- somewhat insensitive. Ms. Curry, ebullient as ever, leaned into Mr. Lauer, who was wearing an arm sling. 'Don't come anywhere near me with a hug,' he said jokingly, but perhaps not entirely so."

That highlight reel never ran on “Today.” It DID appear online, but was posted last year when Curry became co-host of the show. It was not made for Curry’s departure from “Today.”

Myers writes, “According to Landman, Stanley watched part of 'Today,' then switched over to watch the Supreme Court coverage. She then checked the 'Today' website to see what she had missed. The video with the highlight reel auto-played after the segment in which Curry said goodbye. Stanley thought the highlights were part of Thursday’s show, although Lauer says in the 2011 video that Curry was being welcomed as co-anchor.”

Landman told Myers that he does not condone any mistakes appearing in The New York Times. As for this mistake and others Stanley has made in the last few years, Landman told Myers that they are "serious." But then Landman adds, "They are the kinds of mistakes that unfortunately happen when people are working fast, as we do in this line of work."

I don’t know enough about Stanley’s other mistakes to comment cogently about them, but I can tell you this: Landman is dead wrong when he says that Stanley’s mistake last week -- saying the highlight reel ran on "Today" -- is just something that happens “when people are working fast, as we do in this line of work.”

In fact, what Stanley did, in the way she wrote about the highlight reel that never appeared on-air, is lie to the readers of The Times. She claimed she saw it on-air, and she didn’t. If she only saw it online, why didn’t she just say so?

Furthermore, the timeline here works against the veracity of Stanley’s explanation. Curry delivered her farewell to viewers at 8:50 a.m. ET. The Supreme Court did not release its decision on healthcare until after 10 a.m. ET that same morning. Yes, there was chatter about the upcoming Supreme Court decision on various networks earlier, but why would Stanley stop watching the “Today” show so early? (By the way, it turns out that Stanley did not write about the healthcare coverage. Myers also mentions this and the timeline in his piece.)

It’s been written elsewhere that Stanley has also said she didn’t tape the "Today" show, though her assignment was to write about Curry’s farewell. Why not?

Add it all up and I’m sorry, Mr. Landman, your defense of Stanley doesn’t hold water. Plain speaking, Stanley faked it -- she told us she watched a segment on TV, and then even wrote negatively about that segment -- when, in fact, she watched something on the Internet that had not been broadcast.

And that’s indefensible.