Tag Archives: TV Guide

Glen Campbell (1936-2017)

My first memory of Glen Campbell is of sometime during the summer of 1975, not long after my family returned to the States after near-five years overseas. We stayed with my grandparents for a week or two, camping out in their living room, and enjoyed their big color TV – well, it was probably all of 21 inches, but it seemed big to little ol’ me, who was a few weeks shy of turning 10 and accustomed to a 10- or 12-inch black-and-white TV.

Or did it occur during a summertime visit in 1976, when my brother and I sometimes stayed the night? Either/or, I was a pre-music fanatic, far more a pro wrestling fan than anything else. And yet I distinctly remember being transfixed as the virtual optimism that is “Rhinestone Cowboy” rolled from the TV and filled the room.

Years later, of course, I discovered his other classic singles, including “Gentle on My Mind,” “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” “Wichita Lineman” and “Galveston,” and learned about his stint in the now-legendary Wrecking Crew.

The first thing I think of when I hear him, however, is that performance of “Rhinestone Cowboy,” which – sad to say – I’ve never been able to track down.

The second thing I think of: In late 2000, I interviewed him for a TV GUIDE Close-Up on a Ralph Emery-hosted Country Homecoming TNN special. The show consisted of him and a half dozen (or so) other country greats singing and reminiscing with Emery. Like just about every celeb I interviewed during those years, he was nothing but kind – and funny. I mentioned that one thing I liked about the special was the stripped-down performances of the songs. He agreed, his wide smile beaming through the phone line. “Oh, I like it raw,” he said. And with that, he launched into an impromptu (albeit chorus-only) renditions of Bob Dylan’s “Lay, Lady, Lay” and two or three other songs.

Glen Campbell was a good guy. He’ll be missed.

Paul McCartney: Wingspan Documentary

wingspanIt seems like a lifetime ago. And, in many ways, it was. In 2001, I worked for TV GUIDE in its listings department – we wrote the descriptions that the whole world (or, at least, some in the U.S.) read. We also wrote in-depth Close-Ups (or, at least, as in-depth as 500-600 characters could be) for the magazine; and longer essays for the TV GUIDE Web site. For whatever reason, likely my love of music, I was the designated backup writer for the Music Guide, which was featured in the black-and-white section every week. The late Fred Mitchell – as good a guy and colleague that I’ve worked with – was the primary.

I think that’s why Paul McCartney’s Wingspan fell to me, though I could be wrong. Prior to its DVD release, it aired on ABC here in the States; and the general rule was that the same writer handled every aspect of its coverage. It was featured in the Music Guide. Received a Close-Up. And was picked for a longer essay for the Web site. Thus, I got to interview the director of the documentary – Alistair Donald, who was Paul’s son-in-law at the time. (He’s now an ex-son-in-law.)

Anyway, in those days, editors held much sway at TV GUIDE; and different editors had different philosophies. Some changed every word. Others made minor corrections. I cannot remember who handled this particular essay and, in many respects, it doesn’t matter – this was my final draft. So, regardless of who edited it, or how it was edited, this is how I intended it to be. That said, I do remember the editor sending a note justifying my use of the “f” word to a higher-up; it may well have been the first, and likely last, time the “f” word was used in any TV GUIDE product.

With all that said, here ’tis is:

“You tend to forget the bad moments,” says Paul McCartney of juggling a rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle with raising a family. That also doubles as a deft definition for Wingspan, a wonderful travelogue that celebrates his and wife Linda’s flight through the 1970s (11 albums; 10 tours; four children) via home movies, concert footage, TV clips and recent conversations between McCartney and his daughter Mary. “It’s a film of the family by the family,” notes director (and Mary’s husband) Alistair Donald. “It’s how they put together this musical piece and raised a family. It’s [told] through their eyes.”

The overview picks up in 1967, when rock photographer Linda first met Paul at London’s legendary Bag o’ Nails club. “The band was Georgie Fame & the Blue Flames,” they both recall—

And therein lies one of the most charming aspects of the film: Linda’s remembrances. “The idea was that they’d both be interviewed,” recalls Donald. Her untimely passing, however, led him to search for an alternative method to add her voice to the proceedings. “We read an article written in Melody Maker that was written in 1973 while they were on tour with Wings. It was just an article done on Linda. We got in touch with the journalist and [asked], ‘Listen—you didn’t record that interview, did you?’ He kind of went up into his attic and got this old tape.” That and the other archival interviews add an insight to the film that is as touching as it is bittersweet.

For instance, following the dissolution of the Beatles, Paul and Linda retreated to a remote, dilapidated farm in the Scottish countryside. “It was a three-room house with rats in the walls. It was derelict, it was at the end of nowhere. It had no hot water, anything. But, it was some of the best years of my life,” reflects Linda. As she speaks, a home movie fills the screen; McCartney’s “Heart of the Country,” from his Ram album, filters in—and you’re suddenly thrust into their lives, seeing it through their eyes. For a moment, he’s no longer “Beatle Paul” and she’s no longer the “American divorcee” who helped breakup the Beatles. They’re simply a husband and wife, very much in love, who dote on their kids—like so many other young married couples.

Of course, one of the major criticisms of Wings centered on Linda’s involvement in the band—a topic broached here. “It was a very gutsy thing for her to do,” reflects Paul of her decision to play keyboards. And, as she intimates, the barbs did hurt. “It’s like sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will break my heart. So, who listens?” For the record, it should be noted that Linda did in fact contribute to Wings’ success—the infectious reggae break in Wings’ smash single “Live and Let Die”? She wrote it.

Another frequent criticism directed at Wings centered on the music. While Wingspan doesn’t address that issue head-on, give a listen to the songs that accompany the visuals. Many are, indeed, certifiable hits—“Maybe I’m Amazed,” “Live and Let Die,” “Jet,” “Band on the Run,” etc. As often as not, however, the soundtrack features such off-beat treats as the rollicking b-sides “Oh Woman, Oh Why” and “The Mess”; and overlooked gems “Back Seat of My Car” (from Ram), “1985” (from Band on the Run) and “Call Me Back Again” (from Venus & Mars). They more than back up the statement that daughter Stella McCartney made, via her shirt, when she accompanied her father to his (overdue) induction into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 1999: “About f-ing time.” In other words: give the man, and his music, his due.

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart

IMG_4889For quite a few years in the 2000s, Diane and I stayed up late during the week to watch The Daily Show and, once it premiered, The Colbert Report. It was the funniest hour on TV. So I was thrilled to write about Stewart’s satirical shindig (and mention Colbert) for a TV GUIDE project about “100 essential shows” that came to be known as I Heart TV, published by Sasquatch Books in 2007. (I also contributed essays on three of my other favorites, My So-Called Life, The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson and The Wonder Years.)

I did, eventually, tune out – but not because of Stewart or Colbert, or a decline in quality in their shows. The routine lack of sleep finally caught up with me. Of course, for the longest time, Comedy Central repeated the topical block the next day at 7pm, but…day-old satire is somewhat akin to day-out bread. It’s never quite as tasty. (Plus, on a more practical level, I often don’t arrive home until after 7pm.) Anyway, given that the tome is out of print, and that tonight is Stewart’s last behind the Daily Show anchor desk, I thought I’d share what I wrote about it here:

IMG_4891When it comes down to it, the few news anchors that have broken from the pack of teleprompter-reading wannabes and established their names in the cultural ethos of our time, past and present, can be summed up in two syllables. That is to say, their last names possess not one, not three or four, but two distinct speech sounds. Think about it: Murrow. Cronkite. Rather. Jennings. Brokaw. Stewart. Stewart? Jon Stewart?! Yes.

Since signing on as Daily Show anchor in January 1999, replacing Craig Kilborn (OK, OK, so his two syllables didn’t exactly add up to much), the venerable Jon Stewart has, like his esteemed counterparts, offered a succinct summary of the day’s news, spicing the fair-and-balanced recitations with reports from a select group of grizzled correspondents. He’s grilled presidential candidates (John Kerry, John Edwards), former presidents (Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton), a current president (Pakistan’s Pervez Musharraf), and an almost-president (Al Gore); talked policy with heavyweight politicos (Sens. Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, Ted Kennedy, John McCain and Barack Obama, among others); and elicited insights from a long list of former administration officials, commentators and authors. In short, when the news matters most, and even when it doesn’t, the nation’s eyes turn to him.

In the words of President Bush (as channeled by Stewart): “Heh, heh, heh, heh, heh!”

The multi-Emmy-winning Daily Show is—as we all know by now and Stewart readily admits—“fake news.” The concept itself is essentially Saturday Night Live’s “Weekend Update” juiced up on steroids. It satirizes the issues of the day, mocks our elected and unelected leaders, and skewers a news media that too often acts like movie critics delivering thumbs-up/thumbs-down reviews (that is to say, dumbing down most stories). I hesitate to use the word “gravitas,” yet in an emotional monologue following 9/11, Stewart revealed a deeper understanding of America’s greatness than most in the public sphere. “The show in general, we feel, is a privilege. Even the idea that we can sit in the back of the country and make wisecracks, which is really what we do—we sit in the back and we throw spitballs—but never forgetting the fact that it is a luxury in this country that allows us to do that. That is, a country that allows for open satire … that’s really what this whole situation is about. It’s the difference between closed and open, it’s the difference between free and burdened.”

In addition to Stewart, the show features a ready supply of “correspondents” and “experts” guaranteed to raise smirks, if not smiles and out-and-out laughs. For example, when the Bush administration readjusted the formula for dispersing antiterrorism funds in 2006, decreasing New York City’s budget by 40 percent while upping the amounts given to places like Indiana (which improbably claimed the most terrorist targets in the nation at 8,591), the always dry Dan Bakkedahl visited the state to investigate; and ended up skating the day away in one of the alleged targets, a roller rink. Likewise, correspondent Jason Jones, who has yet to meet a story he can’t regurgitate as a guffaw, offered a provocative piece on the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. While an expelled homosexual military linguist translated Arabic text, Jones stripped down to his skivvies in order to gauge if, as the theory goes, the man’s gayness interfered with his job. And, shortly before the 2004 presidential election, Samantha Bee ventured to Pennsylvania to learn why some voters remained undecided. After bringing together a focus group of unfocused citizens, she harangued them in hilarious fashion. “What the [bleep] are you waiting for?! Why can you not decide?! [Bleep] or get off the pot!”

In fact, from longtime cranky commentator Lewis Black (who reminds me, in a good way, of John Belushi’s “but, nooooo!” character on the original “Update”), to former reporter Mo Rocca, who’s since found a home on many VH1 I Love Whatever retrospectives, the supporting cast is almost, but not quite, as important as Stewart. A few have actually become, if not stars, then comets zooming through the fractured universe that is today’s pop culture—Steve Carell (NBC’s The Office), Stephen Colbert (Comedy Central’s The Colbert Report) and Rob Corddry (Fox’s The Winner). Colbert is arguably the most notable of that bunch, forever rocking the free world with his fact-free zone. There aren’t many Americans who can claim victory in a contest to have a Hungarian bridge named after him—with more votes (17,231,724 votes) than Hungary has citizens (10,076,581), no less. While he didn’t receive quite that much love as a mere Daily Show correspondent, he did engender plenty of hysterics. On a set reminiscent of the old Joker’s Wild game show, for instance, his regular “This Week in God” spot lampooned every sacred cow and elephant—and not just in India.

The Daily Show also pokes fun at celebrities and, as “This Week in God” suggests, the so-called “culture wars,” including the Left’s annual “attack” on Christmas. However, it does not, as clueless Geraldo Rivera once claimed to Bill O’Reilly, feature “videos of old ladies slipping on ice.” (Maybe Bakkedahl and Jones, but never old ladies—unless Geraldo knows something about those two the rest of us don’t. Heh, heh, heh, heh, heh.) It is liberal with a lowercase “l,” not Democratic but democratic, filled with bleeped curses and ribald jokes, gleefully taking potshots at anyone and everyone who wanders into the public eye. It’s satire—what a grand two-syllable word—of and for the people.