Making an Impact

I want to make a difference, says just about everybody at least once.

This is especially the case lately in these Un-United States.

Though ALL OF OF US, every last one, do still live in a country that now rips children from the arms of their parents crossing the border and cages them in holding facilities where they see an hour of sunlight a day.

This, by the way, while our attorney general smiles creepily about it as he gleefully quotes a Bible passage used previously by the Third Reich (Note: aka The Nazis) to defend it.

Yes, we have to own our current failures and keep repeating these facts whenever we can even if SINGELHANDLEDLY we can’t change them.

If only because historically it takes A LOT for Americans to make political change but as a people we DO CHANGE – though usually only when our backs are against the wall and there is no other alternative.

Or, as one oft quoted line goes:

Americans can always be counted on to do the right thing – after they have exhausted all other possibilities.

Over the years this has been attributed to everyone from Winston Churchill to Israeli politician Abba Eban, to an unnamed “Irishman” to, well, any amalgamation of sources.  Which makes it no less true.

There is, of course, an argument to be made that everybody thinks they are making a difference because they themselves are different. Every Instagram photo, each Facebook post, all the Twitter rants undisputedly reach people and can be a catalyst to GREAT CHANGE.

… and that’s why there are 96 colors in the box

Or simply deflation when one realizes it didn’t matter as much to everyone else as it did to us. And that even though one or more people than you thought noticed or followed or commented you will NEVER in ten lifetimes match Katy Perry’s 110 MILLION Twitter followers or even Trump’s 52 million.

If only Katy were twice as powerful.

disney princess today… President tomorrow? #itcouldhappen #noreallyitcould

Still, it is essential to remember that each of us has A LOT more power than we think. In fact, every day we hold in our hands the possibility of affecting pivotal decisions, sometimes even life and death ones, among others that cross our paths.

And if you think this isn’t so you have never been a teacher, a mentor, a friend, a lover, a parent or even enemy to anyone.

This, of course, is impossible. In those areas we are ALL double-hyphenates – at the very least.

It is not an exaggeration to say that you never know the full effect you are having on someone you forge any sort of relationship with. Sure, you know what YOU get from them but you don’t truly know how your thoughts, deeds, actions or lack of them served as a catalyst to another person’s change – which then precipitates others, who in turn go on to inspire many others, and then go on to create ______________.

You flatter me so #imblushing

Well, you get the picture. Though perhaps you don’t.

I myself have to be reminded of this every so often, usually when my psyche is at an all time low after seeing kids, usually non-white and poor, taken away from their parents for no other crime than fleeing to the one country where they were told there was an opportunity for freedom – an equal playing field where anyone, even them, could make something of their lives.

Even if this were never true for all (and most especially them in 2018) is beside the point. The United States was always more an idea than a reality. It is no different than the honest advice you might give to a beloved friend or the warm feelings you can’t help but share with a mysterious potential lover who never dreamed anyone would dare think of them the way that you do.

Paging your inner Eliza Dolittle #Icouldhavedancedallnight

Sometimes all any of us have to do is say what we feel (or believe) to someone else, give them something to think about, and change can begin to happen for them, and us, right before our eyes. Other times the timing is wrong but it doesn’t mean there won’t be a great result when we’re not around. In still other cases, we might reach no one but the mere fact that we attempted to finally connect might immeasurably help ourselves, giving us just a little more courage to speak up in different circumstances where the connection we’re trying to make could be much more significant. Or perhaps in the end it’s just another baby step towards, well, something else.

This week I attended an event in honor of the 125th anniversary of Ithaca College held at Walt Disney Studios. It was a big blowout hosted by I.C. alum Robert Iger, Disney’s chairman and chief executive officer – a guy who is arguably one of the top 10 most powerful people in the entertainment industry.

After me… of course #wink

Aside from the fact that he looks great while somehow being even OLDER than I am (Note: And let’s face it, that’s all that we in L.A. really care about, right?), it was fascinating to see the face of this guy brighten when he talked about the meaningful human connections HIS COLLEGE LIFE gave him and taught him – so much so that forty plus years later he agreed to show up and host the gala festivities on his own studio’s back lot the very day he lost his much publicized attempt to acquire 20th Century Fox, to one of his rivals, Comcast.

I’ve held an endowed CHAIR (ahem) position, taught writing and mentored countless students and graduates at the school’s L.A. campus for more than 15 years and in that evening found myself face to face with more grown up versions of people that I will always remember fondly as the not quite adults Mr. Iger once was than you can count.

Feeling very proud #channelingmyinnerMaggie

Forget that some of them now have kids who are teenagers and know a lot more about so many things relevant to today’s world than I do.

What I will always remember from that evening are the numerous instances someone came up to me and recalled some pivotal time where I managed to somehow say something that made them not give up, imparted some little piece of craft (Note: That, no doubt, someone had taught me) that fixed a problem with their work which felt insurmountable or imparted some tiny piece of life advice or social statement (Note: Likely perched on the soapbox I carry around with me, along with my manifesto of liberal talking points) that gave them the confidence to engage in the battle of the world to get what THEY really wanted.

OK.. maybe channeling my inner Ron Burgundy

I mean, who KNEW? At this point, it’s not as if I can remember 85% of the things I’ve said in the past – or even in the very recent present. Though I will confidently proclaim that in every case, whether I remembered it or not, I had NO IDEA what I was saying was even being listened to, much less important to anyone I was saying it to.

It was merely spontaneous engagement on a topic with a group of people sitting in a room and sort of willing (Note: Yeah, sometimes it is tough) to engage.

That’s not the stuff of great teaching. It’s more the talent we all have – of being a thoughtful, decent, listening and reactive human being. At the end of the day it’s only the give and take and exchange of ideas with others that ultimately makes any real difference at all. Or has the chance to.

Four Tops – “Reach Out (I’ll Be There)”

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Give it the Boot

I like nostalgia as much as anyone but do we really need a new Magnum P.I. and another Cagney & Lacey? CBS thinks so. They just greenlit them as pilots.

And why not?   They thought the same thing some years ago when they decided to bring back that brilliant series of my youth…wait for it…. Hawaii Five-O – which is now entering it’s…wait for it….EIGHTH season. Never mind CBS’s refusal last year to bring the salaries of its two Asian actors, Daniel Dae Kim and Grace Park, in parity with its other White stars after all that time (Note: No, they didn’t take to heart the snarky hint to change the series title to Hawaii White-O), thus casing them to leave.

ugh.. whatever CBS

And why should they care? As the vaudeville comedian once quipped after an endless string of bad jokes – I (they) got a million of ‘em!!

Case in point. CBS also greenlit reboots of the cutting edge series of my teens and twenties…MacGyver and S.W.A.T!   Yes. Who knew??? Well, somebody did even if we didn’t. Because they’re both in their…wait for it…second year!

Which is to say nothing of their straight to series deal for a reboot of the Emmy Award-winning comedy about a sober female TV journalist — Murphy Brown — but this time with its original creator and star.

Well.. this could be interesting

That’s right. No re-imagining or recasting here. Candice Bergen is returning as the fictional, crusading, single Mom journalist who – to clarify for my current students – once came under attack from the real Vice President of the U.S. in a nationwide speech as a real, culpable threat to the nuclear family for daring to bring a child into the world without a husband or father in her house. Um, fictional house.

UGH. Everything old IS new again. #helpus

Yes, truly, this happened! His name was Dan Quayle (Note: The veepee, not the kid) and no doubt you haven’t heard of either him or Murphy Brown but just wait till the fall. You will. If it gets an airdate. And heck, even if you don’t watch your parents will no doubt tell you about it in one of those torturous, endless conversations where you’re only half-listening, surfing the web in boredom.

Way to compete for that key ad demographic, CBS!!!!

OK, no fair to pick on the Eye network (though they make it so easy to do so). This season NBC brought back Will and Grace with its original writers and cast to great success and somehow managed to embrace their ages AND make the gay-straight thing seem as relevant as it did when it first aired 20 years ago.

and the pop culture train keeps on coming!

So let’s see what Murphy Brown can do 30 years later. As well as Hawaii Five-O did 40 years later, albeit with a different cast (Note: Alas, its stars and creator are deceased)? Well, perhaps.

But no, wait – we see you hiding there in the corner, ABC. Don’t think we forgot YOU.

they’re back on the couch… and so are we

Late last year you had promised to give us a new version of….can’t wait for it….Roseanne!! And now it’s what, less than two months away until its March 2018 announced airdate?? Kewl. Plus, the real Roseanne recently announced to TV critics that her fictional TV doppelganger and husband will be…TRUMP SUPPORTERS!!… …And that she, herself likes the way he’s shaken things up.

omg.. someone get me a bag.

Though seriously, before anyone goes all ballistic on real Ro just know canny comic TV stars say all sorts of provocative stuff when promoting a new show – and even when they’re not. Again, you have to do something to compete with Netflix and everyone knows the real Ro is about as dumb as a fox.

And while we’re speaking of Netflix (not Fox, we’ll get to them), one does wonder: Just how in the hell did CBS let the reboot of its 1970s hit Norman Lear series, One Day At A Time, go to the most successful streaming service around, where it has emerged as a major critical, and from what we hear, though who ever really knows with Netflix, let’s be honest, commercial hit?

Ohhhh.. is that right? #youtellemRita

Was having one of the few living EGOT recipients, Rita Moreno, as a co-star, too much for them? Or was the issue an actual half-Latinx writing staff? Couldn’t they have tempted Mr. Lear to return to the Eye with a new hands-off approach after decades of earning them billions of dollars, literally? Or did it not fit into their…um…business plan?

Well, perhaps they’re just discounting everything other than the three major networks that created new shows during the time ODAAT first aired. Not likely. Very soon after it was cancelled, Fox emerged as the fourth major, then there was pay cable, then basic cable, then streaming and now, well, there’s just too many to count. Or, well, to take seriously as creative, and especially ratings, competition.

There is just too much TV to watch. #help

Which begs this question:

Is it too soon for Fox to bring back Glee with the adults at night school playing the kids’ roles? I, for one, don’t think so. But if we know Ryan Murphy (and we don’t) he might do it better and make it a limited or horror miniseries where the marginalized high-schoolers REALLY get revenge and become…Oh, never mind. That’s the type of reboot that’s probably already been done to film, live, on-tape or/and virtual death. And beyond. Which is not to say that it couldn’t work…in the right hands.

Of course, there is no point in leaving a real-life decision at Fox out of the loop, particularly since that was its choosing to NOT actually reboot American Idol after a long 2 years and instead allow ABC to have the honors. Way to go, Fox! (Note: We Think). And way NOT to go, ABC! (Note: We Think). Since at the end of the day, well, who really knows? There could be a way by, say, 2030, to reboot a series that is currently on the air with a concurrent alternative version and new location. Or perhaps the same general location and even the same stars but in a different reality.

… but just, like, enough with this show already. #isthetruthstilloutthere

Don’t you dare say no and give us the stink eye before you look in the national mirror towards our nation’s capital…and report to us exactly what is real…and what is fake.

Which could actually be a political remake of 1998’s Sliding Doors starring Gwyneth Paltrow, but set in D.C.. Anybody see it? No.   Well, apparently she’s one of Ryan Murphy’s best friends. Want to be a TV producer? Well then, you can have the idea (Note: I got a million of ‘em!) but only if you start there. I’m dying to see what they say about it and what happens when it goes to the networks.

Peter Allen – “Everything Old is New Again”

Re-make Believe

Screen Shot 2016-05-22 at 2.12.18 PM

A significant part of pop culture has always come from remake and reinvention. Ask Madonna about Marilyn and Lady Gaga about Madonna. Or question The remaining Beatles about Little Richard. How about Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese and Francis Coppola on Akira Kurosawa?   Perhaps Brian DePalma vis-a-vis Alfred Hitchcock or Quentin Tarantino re Sergio Leone.

We all have our influences (and not all of them are good). One can’t help but be affected, consciously or not, by what has come before. In fact, even when you’re not appropriating, copying or paying homage it is likely the purely original idea you came up with has been done in some related form by someone else you don’t know about who is not you. As I’ve learned in therapy and in life, we human beings are individually unalike and yet collectively more similar than any of us suspect – or even want to admit. No wonder someone long ago – and probably long ago before that – said there is nothing new under the sun.

... and sometimes that's OK!

… and sometimes that’s OK!

And yet…

…It has come to my attention this week that we are drowning in… how can I say it… an unreality of make believe. This is not about remakes of endless superhero movies; the faux presidential daily vomits of The Republican Apprentice; or even the film version of one of the world’s most profitable gaming apps of all time – The Angry Birds Movie – debuting at THE #1 position at the box office this weekend. Nor is it about it achieving a B plus Cinemascore – which puts it far above the average college or high school graduate these days.

Instead, it is about a chipping away of the real. It concerns us not being able to separate the world of make believe and pretend with what really was or is – even when the truth is right before our eyes.

NBC’s The Voice – one of my favorite TV shows and one of America’s top 10 faves (Note: Clearly, I’m not the only one who fantasizes being a diva) – had a special event planned for its Tuesday finale show. And this would be a long planned duet between one of its star judges, Christina Aguilera and…WHITNEY HOUSTON. No really. They were going to duet – as in together sing – a melody of two of Ms. Houston’s most famous songs. At least that’s EXACTLY the way it was being billed.

American Idol featured Celine Dion with Elvis in 2007... so even THIS isn't an original idea!

American Idol featured Celine Dion with Elvis in 2007… so even THIS isn’t an original idea!

Yes, Ms. Houston did die more than four years and no, NBC has not made a deal with some 12 year-old prodigy who has figured out how to raise a living version of our most lauded dead. Well, not exactly. What did happen is that a 35 year old Greek billionaire and his ironically titled company, Hologram USA created a an image of Whitney Houston singing her signature I Have Nothing song and it was to alternate with Christina Aguilera singing I’m Every Woman. Unfortunately – or perhaps luckily – the duet was given the kibosh at the last moment by the Houston estate, which noted that with artists of the caliber of Ms. Houston it must be perfect and apparently it – was not. Of course, what it really IS – that’s anyone’s guess.

You'll have to save all your love for something else.

You’ll have to save all your love for something else.

Since writers are sticklers for a certain precision of words and/or language, may we be precise here? The planned performance was not an event television live duet between a living songstress and a deceased one. That is impossible. Instead it was an engineered medley between a flesh and blood person and an image/recording of a dead one.

A living thing cannot be real simply because we wish it to be so.

In the same way a lie cannot be true merely because we have chosen to think otherwise.

Gospel of Constanza

Gospel of Constanza

This is particularly important to remember in the 2016 election year – or for that matter any other year.

Engineering the past is a tried and true position every writer takes whenever they sit down to the page and come up with any story that is even vaguely personal. As artists, we tell a story and often that involves rewriting what is to a version of what you would want it to be or fantasize it was or could be. But it is sold as such – a fiction – an invention – it is not oddly positioned as some sort of 21st century – reality.

HBO debuted a very fine movie this weekend about the uneasy alliance between Pres. Lyndon Johnson and Dr. Martin Luther King’s fraught collaboration to pass civil rights legislation in the 1960s entitled All The Way. While it is a bit odd for us baby boomers to watch Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston pretending to be the drawling Texas president we remember as children it was also just as strange to view The Hurt Locker’s Anthony Mackie saying made-up words in the cadence of a civil rights leader whose dulcet tones we can still recall in our mind’s eye all those years ago.

A different type of resurrection

A different type of resurrection

However, this has always been what film and television is about – an acted rendering of a version of reality. It’s not as if we’re watching current Pres. Barack Obama having a conversation with Dr. King and HBO advertising to the public that it is actually happening. Or that ABC has a Diane Sawyer special booked where she will indeed interview the late Pres. Johnson on what it was like fighting the powers-that-be in the first year of his presidential administration.

It is this next, not so subtle step in blurring the lines with a hologram that is not only a bit creepy but more than a bit dangerous. It’s one thing to attend the Mr. Lincoln exhibit in Disneyland but it is a whole other version of the stars and stripes when the world begins to think that it just spent 15 minutes with the most lauded and perhaps famous member of the centuries old Republican party. At that rate, one day we might not be able to recognize the grand old party or even its next president – or proposed president. Because by that time everything will be its own custom-made Disneyland – and carry as much truth as any image from Hologram USA.

Grampy’s Grammys

Screen Shot 2015-02-09 at 11.47.16 AM

Music is a touchstone. But many young screenwriters I teach have confessed to me they have previously been instructed NEVER to put a song reference in a script because they will limit or confuse a reader who may or may not know the song or the group they’re talking about or will be taken out of the moment by a tune that will probably never wind up in the movie anyway.

The above advice is, of course, ridiculous. Music has always been a great connecter and the perfect evocation of a mood or moment in time that all the talk or visual images in the world can’t muster. It is true that if someone doesn’t know a song a reference to it will not put them in the mood or mindset you intend. But if you go with your gut and choose wisely that song most certainly will do the job when they get to HEAR it – which is the point of writing musical references to begin with. And besides, any artistic moment in time needs all the help it can get.

Which brings us to #GrammyAwards2015.

Hosted by LL Cool J - for the 2,000th time

Hosted by LL Cool J – for the 89th time

As a resident of the west coast who is not in the music industry and therefore not present at the actual live ceremonies, I was three hours late to the party thanks to the greed and hubris of CBS. As the official broadcaster of said ceremony, the network has decided that unlike the Oscars, Emmys and Golden Globes they have no public obligation to share the music simultaneously across the world – or at the very least, the country.

Knowing full well that the primary reason people watch a music awards show is for the performances and not the actual awards, CBS instead chose to delay their west coast broadcast in order to sell more prime time ads and create a greater revenue stream for itself. This is, of course, the network’s prerogative – but only for the time being.

tina-fey-gif

There is a power shift going on in how and where and when we get our entertainment. And that shift is going back to the consumer, which means that before long every event of any importance will be available simultaneously in most time zones. It might be five, ten or 20 years away but the corporate world – which these days includes entertainment and even politics – knows deep down that the party is essentially over and that changeover is causing major and minor freak outs as well as corporate and personal misbehaviors everywhere. These manifest themselves in little bouts of broadcast hubris as well as false and outrageous public statements from people, politicians (Note: No, they’re not the same thing) and various organizations about everything from vaccines to international terrorism, before segueing into mass media hysteria over the possible gender change of an Olympic gold medalist or the newsiness of just what the historical accuracy is of any number of Oscar nominated feature films this year whose only real sin is failing to announce loudly enough its claim that it is merely “based” on a true story.

On the flip side, which of us hasn’t found it a little bit more than fun to live in an age when political gaffes and cultural injustices aren’t events so easily handled?   Truth be told, there is some infinite joy in knowing that eventually Twitter, YouTube and Instagram will provide the real images, observations and videos of said events or thoughts rather than the pre-packaged or approved ones we’ve mostly been previously granted by the gatekeepers.

Enter: Olivia Pope. #ItsHandled

Enter: Olivia Pope. #ItsHandled

I guess I’m gloating but it can be quite entertaining to watch more than a few members of the status quo squirm as their grip on power unwittingly gets pried out from behind our necks. Still, the new scandal du jour of something like NBC anchor Brian Williams exaggerating being shot down in Iraq during the previous decade or fictionalizing a case of dysentery in order to make his Hurricane Katrina reporting more dramatic during the Bush, Jr. presidency is almost quaint at this point. I mean, the one thing we all know these days is that EVERYONE exaggerates a bit – it’s just a lot easier to get caught.   Yes, it’s true – the public already does know that even if the bosses in power don’t.   This is not to excuse the lie or the liar or even to condone that mode of behavior.   Only to acknowledge that we mostly understand that we – most of us – are, in at least some occasional cases, a bit hypocritical, indelicate with our opinions and guilty of bending reality ever so slightly and more – whether national, international or not – whenever the mood hits us.

The new normal today is the degree of the lie. Which is why awards shows are so terribly fun to watch – even when a power broker like CBS doesn’t allow you to view them live along with everyone else.

The craftsmanship of a successful artist’s image is often painstakingly and precisely planned, executed, buffed and shined before you and I get to experience it. But how the famed act in public when they have to be themselves onstage at a live event cannot be any of the above by its very nature. Oh, a person can sort of present a terribly rehearsed version of themselves but on a live show the rehearsal is often fodder for the real show on social media. Sure, he or she or even they can do a bit better fooling us when entertaining live – if indeed that is their profession and they’re good at it. But on the other hand, those who have been auto tuned, or have had their public images sculpted up a bit too brightly become as transparent as an overexposed X-ray held up to the light. Which is more than apt since the people we’re talking about have often been far too overexposed anyway.

Or a little underexposed if you're Sia.

Or a little underexposed if you’re Sia.

Watching this year’s Grammy awards I couldn’t help but feel like I’d be a bit like the star of Gramps Goes to the Movies – catching up with what the young-ins are doin’ and listenin’ to or watchin’ it three hours after the fact or perhaps even a year after my own figurative children’s children had first gotten wise to it.

But then I look up at my TV and the 1970s hard rock band AC/DC – a group I managed to avoid during most of my natural adolescence – are doing a five minute opening number.

What year is this? Am I a teenager again? And what time is it? Don’t I still have math homework to get through? Or perhaps it’s CBS again – playing a cruel trick on the left coast and switching programming back 40 years in order to appeal to its key heartland demographic where presumably they all still do listen to that group.

Performing at next year's Grammys

Performing at next year’s Grammys

As it turned out it was none of those. Only that the actual Grammy broadcast was clearly not hip or even unhip. It actually simultaneously managed to be a hybrid of both and neither. There was something for those of us in or moving into AARP range, others who are indeed still teenagers and the rest of you who fall somewhere in between. In its own odd way, its musical acts, award choices and onscreen behaviors amounted to nothing consistent or at times even decipherable.

This is not say to it wasn’t infinitely entertaining at points or that it failed to reach some quite high moments in others. It is only to note that try as they might to manage it all into something slick and pre-packaged it was actually all kind of a big, engaging mush of truth, fiction, fabulousness and confusion. Sort of like sifting through Twitter or Facebook for too long – but then realizing you’ve both enjoyed and wasted three and a half hours of your life in what seemed like 33 and a third minutes. Not to date myself.

That Zuckerberg

That Zuckerberg

Those of you who didn’t watch along with Grampy Chair or Great Uncles AC/DC can certainly revisit the highlights on the social media platform of your choice. Though I can save you the time with a few thoughts and links to some bottom line highlights.

  • You’ll want to marvel at who thought about having Tom Jones and Jessie J duet You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling as a tribute to famed Brill Building songwriters Cynthia Weill & Barry Mann. No, I didn’t say it wasn’t good. I’m just sayin’…
  • You’ll want to slap your head when you realize CBS is actually choosing to bleep out some song lyrics and words from country superstar Miranda Lambert’s live performance. SHE’S too racy for your core audience? Really? Or do you just think the left coast can’t take a bit of sexual innuendo?
Seasonal allergies be damned!

Seasonal allergies be damned!

  • I want to applaud Katy Perry’s Cover Girl commercial where she frolics amid pink flowers while managing to sell me makeup. Though you might want to boo. But as Taylor Swift, all sleek and tall in Grammy blue once both wrote AND sang: Haters gonna hate.
  • Critics might love groaning when Madonna does her new single about the power of love but I thought it was fun and, more importantly, SHE was once again having fun. You can choose to not think so but you’d be wrong. And no matter what you say anyway, here’s my answer to you in the form of a tweet from GregvsMatt: Roses are red, violets are blue #Madonna is 56 and looks better than you.
Werk it, Material Gurl

Werk it, Material Gurl

  • CBS proves it is once again infinitely unclever by having Fox/American Idol’s Ryan Seacrest introduce NBC/The Voice’s Adam Levine and Gwen Stefani performing their single, but all the network proves is it doesn’t have a tentpole TV reality singing show nor can it even make a lame joke about the others.
  • Matthew McConaughey’s confounding Buick commercials, particularly the one with the bull, will short circuit your brain before you even realize that the revenue it produces is what this three-hour delay is really about. (Editor’s note: It’s Lincoln, not Buick, Chairy. #powerofadvertising)
Annie kills it.

Annie kills it.

  • Sixty-year old Annie Lennox stops the show cold with the best performance of the night both by igniting Hozier’s tired performance of his own Take Me to Church and then electrifying us all with her own rendition of an almost 60 year old song – I Put A Spell On You. If nothing else, the reaction confuses those who live and die by the age demographics of corporate market research. #HelloCBS.
  • I manage to consider that Kanye West’s two onstage collaborations with Paul McCartney and Tony Bennett’s jazz turn with Lady Gaga center stage might disprove every bitchy phrase myself and every other baby boomer has ever uttered about what people, or even corporate networks, will promote those days.
Prince digs into Maude's closet

Prince digs into Maude’s closet

  • I then reconsider the above stance when Kanye steps onstage to try and Taylor Swift Beck’s unexpected win for best album (Note: Presented by Prince in the orange chiffon number your Aunt Esther was gonna wear to your bar-mitzvah but didn’t) and instead pulls back at the last minute even though Beck asks him not to. Then I have to admit to myself that just because one loves a Beatle doesn’t mean one necessarily has or evokes any taste at all.   Though at the same time, I have to also admit Prince looks far better in that getup than my Aunt Esther ever could have, not to mention she’d never be smart enough to publicly state: Like books and Black lives, albums matter.
  • You, if you were indeed watching, probably listened in awe as Sam Smith dueted with Mary J. Blige on Stay With Me – a simple love song/video about a gay guy who isn’t good at one night stands. And you would be right to marvel at both that and the fact that he went on to win four Grammy Awards. #WhoWouldHaveThoughtWayBackWhen. Though it would have really been something if he had dueted with say, Rufus Wainwright. #JustDreamin2025.
Hot damn we love those soulful Brits!

Hot damn we love those soulful Brits!

  • No, it was all of us who kept rewinding Sia’s performance of Chandelier facing away from us while funny woman Kristen Wiig mimed and dance with Sia’s diminutive ballerina all through the song and didn’t so much get a laugh but prove that she is actually also a real live performance artist.
  • You will thank me for advising you to consciously uncouple from Chris Martin and Beck in the fourth hour, almost finale when they duet on one of the songs from what was just voted album of the year. What year, I’m not sure.
I mean.... we get it.

I mean…. we get it.

  • And, though I am in the minority and hesitate to say this – I continue to wonder how Beyonce – clearly an extremely talented and driven woman – can somehow manage to make the finale of the evening – the spiritual Take My Hand, Precious Lord, from the soundtrack of the movie Selma, so beyond grand and indulgent while Common and John Legend sung the hell out of their original song for Selma – Glory – and closed out the show with sincerity. I’ll take a guess. It probably had to do with the fact that they didn’t have a wind machine, flowing white chiffon or enough lighting effects to buff their imagines into a perfect shine.

But hey – that’s just me. And this year’s Grammys. Three hours late. On the west coast feed.

Reality Check

How do you be real but not boring?  How do you write what would (or could) happen but not make it a mind-numbing, contrived story? And finally, is it okay to lie when you think you’re fighting for a larger issue of something that is true?

These are all questions that surfaced this week when watching the return of  NBC’s “The Voice,” the premiere of  the new TV series “Smash” and the public relations nightmare of the Susan B. Komen Foundation, a charity that, among other things, has raised multi-millions of dollars for breast cancer research and awards still more millions of dollars in grant money to organizations that support women’s health.

Do these seem unrelated?  Not really.  One is actual life (Komen), one is total fiction (“Smash”) and the third is a hybrid of both – a television “reality” show (“The Voice”).  The question is – which is the most real to you and in turn is the reality that, on any given day, you are going to choose to live in.  (Obvious Note: the most real is not necessarily where you are choosing to live).

Relax. I haven’t found you out – we all live in some non-reality.  And it’s not really a weighty question.  But these days it is a relevant one.  Because you need to be aware of the rules of the reality you’re living in to navigate it properly, even if the world you’re choosing isn’t real at all.

Let’s start with what is the most real– the Komen Foundation – which in a way is being anything but real this week.  It’s particularly on my mind because my Mom died of breast cancer in 1999 and one of the first positive healing steps I took for myself in her memory was to do the Komen 10K “Run for the Cure” to raise money to fight breast cancer and pressure, guilt or cajole friends and acquaintances to donate money in my mother’s name.  If I couldn’t bring her back, I figured at least I could help in the fight to prevent any other women from enduring the 7 years of cancer treatments my Mom had to deal with prior to her death.  It was a good step.  On several counts.  The run helped me more than I imagined and I also imagine that the money, or my participation, helped someone else in some very small way I will probably never know.

Needless to say I and many other runners, judging from the public outcry, were more than disappointed – okay, royally pissed off – when we found out this week that Komen some time ago hired this woman named Karen Handel to be its senior VP.  Turns out Ms.  Handel is a virulent right wing Christian who ran for governor of Georgia a few years ago on a campaign spearheaded by a crusade to shut down and de-finance Planned Parenthood, and was accused of secretly continuing to do so in 2012 with Komen grants to PP due to the belief that PP was advocating abortion rather than just providing women education and legal health alternatives.  Meanwhile, Komen founder Nancy Brinker went on television and publicly denied Ms. Handel had anything to do with Komen’s decision to deny millions of future dollars to PP.  But her story was quickly contradicted by Ms. Handel a day later when she admitted she was instructed by the group (Komen) to find ways to back away from PP.  Still others in Komen came forward to state that the plan it came up with to change its bylaws was indeed an attempt to distance itself from an organization that had took a public stance against anything like pro-life views.

Fraying at the edges...

If this sounds like the plot of a bad episode of a Lifetime TV series (or miniseries) – it is.  You can just see – Dana Delaney as the right wing Handel, Debra Winger as Komen founder Nancy Brinker, and perhaps Viola Davis (before she broke through in “The Help”) playing the poor woman who has breast cancer but whose treatments are defunded, who is also mother of a teenage girl (Willow Smith’s first starring role) that Planned Parenthood was last week able to help but this week, well – not anymore!

However, this isn’t a TV movie – this is real life.  And even though in real life these things don’t end happily, like in a TV movie, in this case it sort of did.  Social media quickly exposed the scam and within days Komen not only reversed its policy but Ms. Handel resigned (or was given her walking papers) in a big cloud of black smoke, fueled by tens of thousands of very, very outraged liberals and even non-liberals who had raised money for the foundation all these years.  (Note: Word is that the foundation is covering up more grant giving prejudice and its integrity might be permanently lost in the future).

The point is (and yes, I have one –- )  a choice was made in real life by the Komen Foundation to not be real – to sort of fake it and/or cover up truth for political or personal beliefs – and not come clean.  Things being what they are these days, enough people didn’t believe their story and uncovered the sort of truth.  See, in real life, the powers-that-be always had primary control of the narrative, like writers and documentarians do.   But that balance seems to be shifting thanks to the immediacy of You Tube, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and —- ? Beware the 2 or 3 readers of this blog who find and will find themselves among the power ranks.  The dreaded, consciously evil Internet might actually force manipulators of the real truth to be more real in the future.  Or conversely, they might find more intricate ways to bend the truth so craftily than not even You TubeTumblrTwitterfaceBook can stop them.  Only time, and perhaps a future Lifetime TV movie, will tell who comes down on the winning side.

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Of course, real is certainly not the primary agenda of most television series (Lifetime or otherwise).  It is more just the mere evocation of something that can pass for some better, more entertaining version of real.  That certainly seems to be the agenda of the new NBC show, “Smash.” But curiously it’s lead-in on NBC, a singing competition called “The Voice,” which features budding singers in the familiar reality of a reality show, feels infinitely more real AND true and (for my money) is actually much more entertaining than anything being pushed by the expert entertainers behind “Smash” (which include Steven Spielberg).

It's what they want you to think...

You don’t ever know what artists are going for when they create a TV show, aside from ratings, but if we are to believe the promos and interviews, the creators of “Smash” really believe they are taking their audience inside the making of a Broadway musical.  There is no reason to doubt it since many of its creators, writers and performers have actually worked on Broadway musicals.

Having known a few people over the years from the NY the-a-tre who have actually been on Broadway, it’s hard to imagine any of them saying lines like: “I don’t know why I expect people to be civil in this terrible business,” or to sum up Marilyn Monroe with thoughts like “Marilyn wasn’t about sex, she was all about love.”   But it especially feels unreal to think they would get someone to finance and jump on the bandwagon to make a Broadway musical about an iconic person who was the subject of a previously grand flop of a Broadway musical some decades before (“Marilyn: An American Fable”).  Nor is it easy to accept they’d be tempted to do so because they have the singular temptation to perform and write a single musical number about, of all things, baseball (!) in a show about the sexiest movie star who ever lived. (Note: Yankee Clipper baseball hero Joe DiMaggio was at one time married to said movie star).

Bedazzled Yankees' jerseys are flying off the shelf!

All of this happens in “Smash” – and more.  Or perhaps, less.  Certainly, less reality.  Okay, you can’t judge a show by solely a pilot.  And, I mean, does it have to be real?  Well, not if it’s objective is to entertain.  But can it be entertaining if it evokes little reality to a situation?  Not unless it’s really really bad like “Showgirls” or even moderately mediocre like last year’s “Burlesque.”  “Smash” is neither of those.  It evokes none of the nuance, rough edges or full reality of 2012 New York but its clichés and circus-like atmosphere aren’t quite campy enough either.  It exists more in a nether land  of, well – oddness.  As it unfolds it can either be that a) in this case full reality is not preferred or that, b) clichéd reality is much more entertaining because c) we know it, d) we want to escape, and e) hell, it does have a few toe-tapping fun songs to disrupt us from the slow economic recovery and international crises that have become our true reality.

Except – except – if we want to truly escape reality – why has reality TV become a genre all its own and why is the most popular series program on the major networks this week a reality TV show that serves as the lead in — (that means it airs right before it in industry speak) to “Smash.”  I’m talking about a sublime show called “The Voice” that yes, on paper should be contrived and cliché as “Smash” can be and as manipulative and perhaps dishonest as the Komen Foundation has been on the national stage.  On the reality honesty meter, “The Voice” should come in third place to Komen and “Smash” but the truth, according to my Chairmeter, is that it leaves them both in the dust.  Far, far in the dust.  In fact, in our ratings (and the Nielsen’s) it is #1.

That’s because “The Voice” knows what it is – and doesn’t try it hide it.  It’s a reality show fantasy with feel good endings.  But like all good entertainment it traffics in the real by using actual real life people who tell their own stories, often a bit more unvarnished than we are used to from talent competition shows like “American Idol” or fictional shows that present the making of a Broadway musical.  (Certainly more real than some real life charity organizations).  “The Voice” features singers who are 40, even 50, men and women who are not always attractive, young and older people who are openly gay and bring their  spouses  partners, performers who perform in pairs, vocalists who sing everything from opera to down and dirty soul, and famous pop/rock/country star judges who actually must face some (but not all) of the same rejection as the contestants.  Is that why it’s a ratings bonanza?  Partly.  But also because it uses real, often times very experienced actual singers who are real life tested and entertaining.  The fact they haven’t yet become stars feels like the only odd and made up thing here since one can imagine hearing the voice of any of the contestants on their iPod right now –  the 50 year old Black Diva; the preppy male opera singer with the Josh Groban range; the sweet voiced but 37 year old undiscovered country singer.

I can't argue with anything that features chairs so prominently

“The Voice” evens the odds at a time when getting a break seems impossible in today’s economy while “Smash” feels like a piece of fantasy that puts the 99.9% of us who are in the majority out of the running – not exactly an appealing scenario right now.

Unlike Komen ,“The Voice” takes us from the reality to a real life that is possible.  And unlike “Smash” it knows how far to stray before we find its stories ridiculous.  And unlike all of our all too real lives, it can be counted on to always give us a believable happy ending, despite whatever adverse circumstances its hero comes up against.

If only real life could indeed be counted on to be just like that.  Then we could all keep running forever – both alive and happy.