Re-make Believe

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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.

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Swinging from the Chandelier with the Pope

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When I was a young teenager I was 25-30 pounds overweight. It wasn’t a happy time in my life though I’m not sure if that’s why I was overeating. Maybe it was just adolescence. Or maybe I liked food. Or maybe, just maybe, it was all of the above.

I mention this because this week I watched a young man on NBC’s The Voice who was quite overweight who reminded me of an even heavier version of my heavy self when I was his age. Except he had one thing that I NEVER had – he could sing.

Wow – could he sing. If you imagine a cross between Adam Lambert, Mariah Carey with maybe even a little Mary J. Blige thrown in by way of Stevie Wonder, you get the picture. In fact, he himself joked that he often gets mistaken for a woman on the phone and at drive-thrus. He also admitted that his appearance and manner was clearly not what others are normally used to and that it took him a while to realize these were his special qualities, that he was born this way and that God didn’t mistakes.

Fight on, little monster

Fight on, little monster

In any event, this young man – whose name is Jordan Smith – was vociferously praised for his mind-bending talent by four experts. And he received a standing ovation from the audience. Not to mention, he was told repeatedly by the judges that he was not only inspiring but an important contestant for the world to see AND for the world to understand that talent and original voices – be it singing or original points of view – are what come from inside. How one looks on the outside has less than nothing to do with what is being expressed. (Note: This is, of course, a talent show and granted, has little to do with the music INDUSTRY, which is a whole other kettle of worms. Yes, worms).

Anyway, I found myself wishing two things after spending some time thinking about Jordan. One is that I grew up in a time when people would have said those things to his 1970s doppelganger (Note: Okay, Me when I was praised for my specific talents). And second, though infinitely more important, is that in 2015 I lived in a country where the political rhetoric being bandied about by THE most popular news network in the country (that would be Fox) and by many of the candidates in one of our two major political parties, reflected that kind of inclusion and understanding. Sadly, it does not. It’s exclusion of the worst kind – to gay people, to climate change believers and to Muslims – just to name a few of who at the moment seem to be the top 3. And those are just the groups that instantly come to mind.

This is not a diatribe against Evangelicals, Republican conservatives or even The Republican Apprentice, who I believe is neither of the above but simply an egomaniacal boor. Rather it is a recognition and reaffirmation of what exactly is going on in acceptable, seemingly intelligent public discourse these days.

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Inclusion is seen as political correctness, political correctness is seen as coddling, and coddling is in turn seen as destroying the fabric of American society by overprotecting children (or even adults) at too young an age from the bullying they will unavoidably receive in the real world. As if we need to provide more of that in our language and conservations because the world isn’t already cruel enough.

Speaking of which… Pope Francis was in the United States for the first time this week – have you heard? Yes, I thought so. Well, these days you have to admire a religious leader – any religious leader – who spends much of his public speaking time emphasizing the brotherhood of man (which presumably includes women), reaching out to each other with love, and taking care of the poor and any of those less fortunate. Not to mention any person of the cloth at all who is humble enough to ask us to pray for him and inclusive enough to include this request to non-believers – who he merely asks to send good wishes and thoughts. The implication that he is not all-knowing and merely just another regular guy who needs all the help he can get in doing his job sounds unlike any religious leader I’ve ever encountered in my lifetime, either in synagogue, in books or even on the pages of the NY Times – which is where I get most of my religious leader info anyway.

#PopeonTwitter

#PopeonTwitter

On the other hand, if you are different the way I am, it’s sometimes a bit challenging to watch the absolute furor in which this particular Pope is greeted (24/7 news coverage, crowds in the tens of thousands, gesticulating, fainting and near hysteria) and not consider several thoughts. Among them is that he has publicly advocated against gay marriage, gay adoption and transgender rights. It is also difficult to ignore that he is the leader of an international religious institution – which make no mistake about it is a very wealthy, disciplined and doctrinaire organization – that believes any number of behaviors that fall within any of many mainstream activities among significant minorities (or even majorities) in everyday life are sins deserving of varying degrees of punishment – or illegalization.   If I were female I might bring up a woman’s right to choose, women being priests, divorce and any host of other subjects. And what about atheists? Do they have no moral standing on any grounds whatsoever? The list could go on and on.

Touche, CoCo

Touche, CoCo

Love is, well, lovely – and so are good thoughts. But when you are in a sub-group all the love in the world will not alone get you on an even playing field with others who have the majority amount of money, power or, let’s just say it, moral high ground. Religious leaders, especially the most popular ones, by definition own the moral high ground and are fronts for extremely large institutions that more often than not are responsible for maintaining the status quo, including the discriminatory parts of it. To do it in a nicer way is, well, nice – but none of us should be fooled – underneath the welcoming rhetoric it is merely a nicer variation of what we already have.

Or is it? Pope Francis seemed to acknowledge climate change in several of his speeches and appeared to be speaking almost directly to the flock led by The Republican Apprentice when he praised and reminded the U.S. that one of our greatest strengths is that we are and always have been a nation of immigrants. Perhaps gay marriage is next? On second thought (or even your 17th one) do not count on it.

Well.. this is a good start, but let's not get too excited.

Well.. this is a good start, but let’s not get too excited.

This is not to say that there is always agreement within the subset of your special interest group. Speaker of the House John Boehner, a conservative from Ohio, resigned from his position Friday after 35 years in Congress, in large part because he was tired of fighting the shut down the government at all costs demands of the Tea Party ultra-right wingers of his group. And there is a pop culture fight going on within the gay community at the moment about the movie Stonewall, Roland Emmerich’s (Independence Day) new film about the 1969 uprising that is often cited as the birth of the fight for LGBT rights.

Because Mr. Emmerich chose to invent a young, white handsome male protagonist as the main character audience surrogate for his film, a very local group of critics are convinced that he sold out history by marginalizing the significant contributions of gay people of color, not to mention that of drag queens and transgender individuals. Never mind that all of these different types of people play significant roles in the film – none of them are THE star. On the other hand, each protestor at the time WAS the star of their own story of those riots and no one knows for sure who threw the first brick. Just as today we are all the STARS of our own lives, whether we know it or not, or choose to exercise it or not. It’s always a question of one’s POV and how one decides to frame their narrative. This is not only the mission of a very mainstream filmmaker like Mr. Emmerich, but the same challenge faced by the Speaker of the House – or by a Pope.

Well at least Emmerich acknowledges it!

Well at least Emmerich acknowledges it!

Which brings us back to young Jordan Smith. He will certainly have his haters, as well as lovers, as he goes through life. On the latter score lots of significant progress has been made since that time in the late seventies when I was his age. But let us be very clear, this progress was made not due to the benevolent language of any religious leaders or by any acts of Congress. Those are merely by-products of a hard fought fight led by a group of surly INSURGENTS. Decades of ACTIVISTS who died and/or risked their lives for a simple idea – equality. Among these activists were also lots of regular people who simply chose to live their everyday lives unapologetically and out in the open.

We all advocate for our causes and it’s nice to be loved. But it’s better to be accepted and included on an equal pay scale and rights scale. Not doing that for any one of our sub-groups – that’s the only real sin, in my mind. The original and ongoing one.

Grampy’s Grammys

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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.

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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.

Must (Not) See TV

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There is too much TV. There, I’ve said it. So do not chastise me because I stopped watching The Leftovers after three episodes and Masters of Sex after two even though I liked them both. Also, DO NOT get on my back because I haven’t yet sampled Orange is the New Black (it’s on my list) or that I can’t deal with Kevin Spacey talking to the camera with a phony accent in House of Cards enough to get past the beginning of season one. As for Scandal, for me it’s beyond ridiculous but not in a good way in much the same way that The Good Wife is a solid, well done broadcast network TV series that has never grabbed me by the throat and refused to let go.

Ugh... yes that too.

Ugh… yes that too.

I freely admit to all of these offenses.

Still, isn’t it enough I have watched every single episode of Mad Men and Girls – two shows that never ever disappoint me even on their worst nights? Or that I long to know what will happen next to the cast of PBS’ Downton Abbey exactly as much as I’m jonseing for season four of American Horror Story to begin next month? Or even season three of Orphan Black to start in January? How about that I never miss an episode of the broadcast network series Revenge, or NBC’s The Voice? Doesn’t that give me some mainstream television street cred?

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Okay, fine – then let’s close with the following – Here are the television comedies I enjoy very much almost every time I tune in: Archer, Parks and Rec, New Girl, The Mindy Project, Louie, Please Like Me and, perennially and forever – I Love Lucy. Though I can stand to miss episodes or seasons here and there because after all, one does need to eat, sleep and have some fun in well, some OTHER way at least…occasionally. Doesn’t one?

I have spent at least a million minutes of my life watching television and for half of that time there were only three broadcast networks and 0.00 cable series to choose from. And I suspect most of you under 30 would have similar stats, give or take a few thousand minutes, especially if you counted TV content you’ve viewed via your computer, touch-Pad, phone or any other mobile device/screen I’ve left out. Oh yeah, you know you would because given the way we live now even buffering counts.

They should really add a pillow app.

They should really add a pillow app.

More than half a century ago Newton Minow, the former FCC chairman and attorney, famously dubbed TV a vast wasteland in a speech he gave before the National Association of Broadcasters. No doubt he’d now have that to say and more about what it’s done to my mind and yours after all these recent years of abuse. Oh – and before you yell BULL PUCKY to the opinion of this still ticking 88 year old – who to my knowledge has never taken back the verdict he came to in that famous speech – consider the entire statement he made all those many decades ago as he chastised a captive audience of station owners and television insiders alike.

When television is good, nothing — not the theater, not the magazines or newspapers — nothing is better. But when television is bad, nothing is worse. I invite each of you to sit down in front of your television set when your station goes on the air and stay there for a day without a book, without a magazine, without a newspaper, without a profit and loss sheet or a rating book to distract you. Keep your eyes glued to that set until the station signs off. I can assure you that what you will observe is a vast wasteland.

Hmm, well I haven’t quite tried that. But I will confess to being a part time insomniac and night owl who has watched more than my share of 2 am infomercials. These include Cindy Crawford’s beauty secrets derived from a French doctor synthesizing a rare melon that promises the age-defying skin of a 25 year old to not only you and I and the supermodel but also to Debra Messing and Valerie Bertinelli, two of the celebrity subjects who appear beside CC in this very engaging hard/soft sell. Wasteland? Not at all. I prefer the old adage waste not, want not – as does my age-defying epidermis. Especially when the alternative is to suffer the endless workouts offered at that time of night under the tutelage of Sean T’s Insanity or Tony Horton and P90X.   I mean, talk about a no brainer!

Aside from never aging, she even managed to clone herself

Aside from never aging, she even managed to clone herself

As for television, I try to do my work and it beckons. Daytime, nighttime, afternoon time – it beckons. MSNBC, reality, cable, network, computer, smart phone, tablet – it’s there. It’s difficult to get off the juice, as it always is with any sort of addiction, yet isn’t it wise to try? There are books to read, work to do, people to engage with, movies to see, friends and family members to……..text? Pictures to post on..…….Instagram? And pet videos to…….. ___________? Not to mention, museums, plays and planetariums. Or beaches, hills and mountains to climb. Literally, if you so choose any of the latter.

Well, that's one way to repurpose your old console

Well, that’s one way to repurpose your old console

Speaking of which, this week I was packing up the home of a dear friend who died recently and was going through old photos and various other memorabilia. These items showed this person through the ages and reference various movies through many decades that this person worked on. These movies were all famous and like many people in the business my friend has keepsakes from them – a baseball hat here, a plaque there, a jacket somewhere else. Decades and decades of work you would all likely recognize in an instant.

The fact that this friend had an impressive career in and around some of the more iconic moments in film history was in that moment both impressive and moving to me because it not only referenced visual and intellectual memories of the individual I knew but touched on several iconic moments from the past that would no doubt move people who did not ever know my friend since they serve as enduring pop culture touchstones to many millions of others of us throughout the world.

Movies used to do that more than any other form of entertainment and certainly there are still some films these days that reach iconic status. But one could make a case that the viewing habits ushered in by new technology and our unremitting demand for more, more, more has now placed television at the forefront if for no other reason than sheer numbers. Has anything Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese or Quentin Tarantino directed in the last 10 years tapped into the cultural hot button the way Breaking Bad, Mad Men, The Office or even South Park has? I doubt it. Even niche television like Broad City outreaches a niche indie film darling like Obvious Child these days.

There is no "shut your phone off" warning before Scandal.

There is no “shut your phone off” warning before Scandal.

For better or worse TV, no matter how you watch it, is at the peak of our culture despite how high or low of a medium one chooses to see it as.   Certainly it has replaced movies as the more consistently discussed mode of entertainment – which replaced theatre before it, which took over from books and radio for a while, which in turn took over from plays. Which has nothing to do with sports except for the analogy of how football began to dominate over baseball decades ago, at least in the U.S. Though who knows for exactly how long as we watch the popularity and billion dollar corporate sponsorship of the NFL begin to collapse the more its culture of covering up the heinous domestic and child abuse allegations against some of its most popular ($$$) players are exposed to the harsh light of day.

That said, one wonders if there is something about all of us which is really to blame here since logic dictates that the most popular entertainment we choose at any particular moment in history is merely and certainly reflective of who and what we really are as a people. Wow, that’s a scary thought. Or, more pointedly, a mind-numbing one. Which sort of brings us full circle.

The eternal question

The eternal question

When this sort of thing comes up, I instead prefer to consider something, well anything else that I’m looking forward to doing the rest of the week. This includes watching anything and everything that I can on television because, let’s face it it’s easier than thinking about any of those questions above for one more second.

Here are a few of those program choices in no particular order and not all of which will even debut this week. I include all of them as possible diversionary material only because it’s gotten to the point where even anticipating and/or dreaming about what’s on television has become more desirable than experiencing or even pondering some of life’s most stickiest issues.

Cherishing Valerie

Cherishing Valerie

1. The return of HBO’s The Comeback on Nov. 9. – This show gives me hope for the future since it proves that in even the turbulent, competitive times of 2014 you can reinvent and resurrect yourself after nine years in the doghouse.       That’s the life-affirming meta message of this half hour black comedy starring Lisa Kudrow as supposedly washed up television actress Valerie Cherish. And this is because after being axed by HBO and off the air for nearly a decade both The Comeback and Kudrow’s Valerie have been given an almost unheard of second chance.   Yes, she might be clueless and fame seeking (which of us isn’t?) but somehow her sweet and sour self perseveres as she tries to navigate the minefields of her career and personal life by allowing any and all cameras to film her day and night. If that’s not a metaphor for today, then…you don’t understand metaphors. Or today.

Cosby show in the Obama age?

Cosby show in the Obama age?

2. Black-ish – I’m going out on a limb with this one because I only saw a 10-minute preview and they tend to be misleading.       Still, when network television (ABC) green lights a story about an upper middle-class African American Dad (Anthony Andreson) who panics when his young son decides he wants a bar-mitzvah and then forces the family into more Black appropriate rituals and behavior– I can’t wait to sample it. And this would be the case if it were the other way around and it were a White TV family trying to act less Black (Note: As if THAT would ever happen).

Adding to the allure here is that Laurence Fishburne plays the crotchety Grandpa. Not to mention that when Dad admonishes his mixed-race wife (Tracey Ellis Ross) for not being Black enough, she snaps at him a line like: Really? Then tell that to my hair and my ass! Sure, it could all go horribly wrong but it could also be politically incorrectly right. Given that ABC has scheduled it to directly follow Modern Family it just might have a shot at the latter. (Air Date: Sept. 24).

Bring it on!

Bring it on!

3. American Horror Story – Season 4 – I’m addicted to this show for all the wrong reasons it’s sick, twisted, sometimes illogical, and campier than a room full of Ann Miller impersonators (Note: For those under 30 substitute RuPaul impersonators, or simply RuPaul). It doesn’t matter. The new season in this anthology series is called Freak Show, is set inside a Florida circus of outcasts run by Jessica Lange and features a set of conjoined twins, a bearded lady and a severely large, red-mouthed guy in white face named Twisty the Clown. Need I say more? I don’t think so.

Until Oct. 8, the preview can say it for you. In three different ways (Note: Actually, thirteen if you check YouTube on your own).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qKGwySm9nMc

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cexbmH3xLuQ

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=shIZH4GnQT0

Of course, there are museums to visit, social issues to protest and scathing words to write and say about a myriad of issues that comes across our screens on any given day. Not to mention if we really want to be proactive and do something different we could contribute to a charitable cause, or any cause, we believe in with an amount that exceeds our monthly bills from Time-Warner, Direct TV, Netflix and god knows what other mega speed Internet connections we’re signed up to that enables us to view all of the former in minimal discomfort. Those are all worthy gestures and would no doubt be personally satisfying. But nowhere near as exciting as the momentary thrills we receive after just a few minutes in front of our very own small screen. And therein lies the problem.   That is, if any of us ever choose to see it as such.

 

The IT Factor

Paparazzi

Some people just have IT.  And as Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart famously argued re obscenity in 1964, you know IT when you see IT.

We’re not talking about pornography here – we’re talking about seemingly superhuman, universe-given (Note: No God references here) — TALENT.

So when this week I watched a 16-year-old bubbly girl from New Jersey named Jacquie Lee close out Tuesday night’s episode of The Voice singing I Put a Spell On You – a classic blues song by Screaming Jay Hawkins that was recorded timelessly by none other than the brilliant diva Nina Simone – and then reinterpreted campily by Bette Midler in the cult movie Hocus Pocus – I was skeptical.  I mean, ya need some miles on ya to do that song justice.

I mean... where do you go from here?

I mean… where do you go from here?

Uh, well…. not really.

We don’t know much about Jacquie Lee except she’s a seemingly happy high schooler from a nice family who plays soccer and, in her spare time, entertains sick kids in local children’s hospitals in her home state with a traveling keyboard.   Oh, also that she’s smiley and well-liked, though probably not rated among the very top singers on the #1 show on television this season.

Well, that’s all changed.

Here’s what Jacquie showed us this week with a microphone and an absence of auto-tune in less than two and a half minutes.

Question:  How is this possible???

Or perhaps the real question is – How is IT possible?

It is no secret among those who know me well or those who sort of know me but not quite that well, that if I could pick any IT talent in the world to have it would be singing.

It’s not that I can’t sing – I can sort of carry a tune and can do it pretty well if I really concentrate – it’s just that it’s not what I do nor who I am except in my dreams.  Yes, I could take lessons and get better and yeah, I know it’s not about being the best, it’s about being the best that YOU can BE.  Still honestly, there is no way, no how I can ever be the kind of singer that I would long to be.  Which is a great one, a natural one, a soaring one, a brilliant one.  An IT one.  Young Jacquie is an IT one.

It doesn’t matter whether Jacquie is to your taste, my taste or the world’s taste.  All one needs to do is listen to a few notes and one knows – if honesty prevails – that the IT can’t be denied.

This helps.

This helps.

Most artists don’t have the IT and are quite wonderful at what they do.  And not everyone who has the IT can handle it and become the artist they want to, or perhaps are even meant to, be.  It takes a combination of extreme dedication, perseverance, timing, hard work, discipline and yeah…some luck.  Plus, let’s not confuse artistry (and IT) with commercial success and world domination.  Haven’t you ever met anyone who has IT who no one has ever heard of?  Perhaps someone you know well, or even you, (Note; They’re not always one in the same) are that person.

The IT is rare and most humans don’t possess it.  Though we are ALL creative and artistic – I really believe that.  We just need to find what our talents are and nurture them.  We can’t lament not possessing the IT because all of the lamentation in the world won’t give that specific component to us.  However, what we can do is appreciate and admire and applaud for the IT when it appears.  Like a great piece of chocolate cake – and I mean a really, really great one – it is very, very rare.

J. Law knows.

J. Law knows.

There’s a pivotal moment in the Judy Garland version of A Star is Born (1950) where James Mason, playing movie star Norman Maine, is trying to persuade young Esther Blodgett, played by Ms. Garland, just how great a singing talent she really is.

Says Norman:

If you’ve never seen a bullfight you’d know a great bullfighter the minute he stepped into the ring by the way he stood and the way he moved.  Or a great dancer.  You don’t have to know about ballet.  That little bell rings inside your head, that little jolt of pleasure.  Well that’s what happened to me just now.  You’re a great singer.  You’ve got… that little something extra.

The entertainment industry and, more generally, the world, are littered with any number of artists with the IT whose lives ended tragically short for various reasons.  I don’t need to list them here.  You’ve heard of the famous ones and maybe you’ve personally known or known of some of the anonymous few who were equally brilliant in their own ways.   What is for sure is what it’s like to live day to day with IT is unknowable.  Except that – like anything big and electric – it can’t be easy or exceptionally great all the time.  Because, as we all know, nothing in the world is ever that – nor could it be.  Nor would most of us really ever want it to be.

Like I would  mention my Amy.

Like I would mention my Amy.

I love great artists and I strive in all of my work – artistic and not – to do the absolute best I can.  I also try to teach this to my students.  To go the extra mile because if you don’t do it in what you’re producing you are, bottom line, ultimately only selling out yourself.   And there are already more than enough ways for the latter to happen without you yourself helping it along.

Nothing is the IT at every moment or at every performance or and no one is the IT each time they show up to their tablet or desk or stage of choice.  And no doubt even if a daily diet were available it would wind up boring and take away much of he luster we’re talking about here.  Therefore — in those few times the IT does happen (Note: It’s usually unexpected.  That’s how the IT operates) don’t be foolish and allow yourself not to get caught up in the excitement. Don’t get jealous, be cynical or negate that which is obviously true.  Be fully present in the moment.  Bear witness.  It will not only give you pleasure, it likely will, in some small way, be inspiring – and make you better at what you, and only you specifically, can do.

Love it AND Hate it

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You can hate something you love or love something you hate.  For instance, in my twenties I used to periodically LOVE watching televangelists Jim and Tammy Baker crazy talk their version of God and morality to the masses while simultaneously HATING them and every misguided piece of religious bile that spewed out of their hypocritical mouths.  What does this say about me?  That I’ll sink lower than the approval ratings of Congress (and then some) for a laugh AND I will even do it gaily at my own expense.

Truth be told, I fully support the right of pretty much any nut job who manages a way onto the airwaves to have their say just as I vehemently advocate for the right to hurl poison pen insults from the peanut gallery directly at them and their nether regions if I so choose.  Of course, sometimes a handful of those wackos and media whores of the moment are mentally ill and, in that case, all bets are off. Which particularly pains me since Kathleen Taylor, a renowned Oxford University researcher and author specializing in neuroscience, predicted last week during a talk on the brain that we might soon see a proven link between religious fundamentalism and mental illness.

Yes, I'm looking at you, Lonesome Rhodes

Yes, I’m looking at you, Lonesome Rhodes

This all brings me to my favorite TV reality judge (and overexposed rock star) Adam Levine (Note: Yes, I love Adam even as I sometimes hate tire of him).  Fearing the two best singers he mentored all season as a coach on NBC’s #1-rated show The Voice would indeed be voted off the program by the masses (nee viewers) who had the time and thought to phone in and be counted in the final vote tally, America’s #1 Jewish front man (that’s Adam, not me) decided to tell the truth and utter these four words:

“I Hate This Country.”

Uh, oh.

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If we were all brutally honest, we would all admit that in times of stress or perceived injustice we all have said or thought something similar or far worse:

For example:

“I HATE YOU, _____________________”

Mom

Dad

Sibling

Spouse (Fill in the name)

Lover (Fill in the name of your choice after they cheated on you)

Friend (Fill in the name of your choice after they cheated on you with your lover or spouse or both)

This, of course, does not mean that we really HATE any of those treasured people in our lives aside from in that moment in time (well, maybe we cut the friend.. right?).  Just as it doesn’t mean that Adam Levine hates the good ole red, white and blue any more than his fellow judge, country and western star Blake Shelton, loves it.

Let's have them duke it out!

Let’s have them duke it out!

I happen to know this is true because in the last two or three decades I have said I hate this country publicly, oh, at least a dozen times (though not on NBC because they haven’t booked me yet). More than half of those times were in the eighties and nineties during the Reagan/AIDS era.  A few more came after George W. Bush got elected and re-elected.  Another couple had to do with young people being bullied and a few more – well, I forget.

Like any opinionated fella in 2013, Mr. Levine instantly took to Twitter and defended himself with humor – brushing off his remarks as an impromptu joke.  But hundreds (thousands?) tweeted back to him and NBC that he was un-American (one twit even suggesting Navy Seal Team 6 be sent after him) and should be fired.  Then some fair and balanced wags at Fox weighed in with similar thoughts, prompting Mr. Levine to issue still yet another statement:  “I obviously love my country very much and my comments were made purely out of frustration.”

This last mea culpa is sort of like the kind you give to your parents, friends and lovers  — but without the accompanying tears, back patting or make-up sex.

As for me and my anti-American words, there will be no apology.  Formal or otherwise.  The last time I checked the only thing you can really be put in jail for saying in the United States is Fire! in a crowded movie theatre or any sort of perceived threat against the President.

You can also add choosing "List It" to my list of crimes. #AlwaysLoveHillary

You can also add choosing “List It” to my list of crimes. #AlwaysLoveHillary

Or, perhaps, if I had my way, singing Merle Haggard’s reactionary, right wing country classic from 1969, Okie From Muskogee, on network television – which was what happened on Monday night’s edition of The Voice.

Don’t remember the lyrics?  Well, here are the first four lines:

We don’t smoke marijuana in Muskogee

We don’t take our trips on LSD

We don’t burn our draft cards down on Main Street;

We like livin’ right, and bein’ free….

Yet Adam Levine, who has been often said to smoke a joint or two , could this week only beam and nod in approval at that Muskogie moment.  Maybe it was because he liked the song or, more likely, maybe it was because he was afraid not to like the song.  I have no idea.  But then again, for a $10 million plus paycheck for each Voice cycle I too might even be silenced by the possibility of a red state America backlash getting in the way of my retirement fund.

For the record, there are many, many things about this country I do love.  New York City, the Pacific Ocean, the view from my upstairs window, kitchen supply stores, driving with the top down in my car with the heat on in 55-65 degree weather, and the right to write anything I damn please without having some idiot redcoat (or any other color coat) comin’ a knockin’ at my door and dragging me to a cyber-age Siberian prison never to be heard from again.

But that doesn’t mean that at one point or another I don’t also dislike, or even hate all of the above.  I spent some time on vacation last week in 90-degree/900% humidity New York that in that moment made me despise the city and everything about it even as I still loved (as I always have) its Broadway shows and hot pretzels.

These pretzels are making me thirsty!

These pretzels are making me thirsty!

I also hated my convertible car last year when the battery died twice in a month, one in the middle of busy intersection.  Just as I positively loathe the Pacific Ocean on windy summer days like today when I can’t figure out whether my sinuses or the brush in the Inland Empire burn with greater intensity.

The point is – no one should ever take at face value anything that is said, or even read, in this world.  There is a context, an underside, a nuance, or even an accompanying explanation to everything you hear, see or read.  You are not obligated to seek it out but none of us can rightly deny that it doesn’t exist.  I mean, even I know in my heart of hearts that there is something good about mashed potatoes and peas despite the fact that the sight of them together on my dinner plate inevitably makes me gag.

Which brings me to the newest food craze sweeping New York  – the Cronut.

Behold.. THE CRONUT.

Behold.. THE CRONUT.

A combination croissant and doughnut, these very sweet somethings are the invention of French pastry chef Dominique Ansel and are THE new must have for anyone who is anyone in the city (Note: the previous sentence could easily be read by my beloved Stefon).   People wait online in front of Mr. Ansel’s Soho bakery each morning starting at approximately 5am (he opens at 8) to get one of the precious 200 or so Cronuts he bakes each day.  You can buy up to six of them in a day (they are sold to you in a gold box if you do so), you can’t reserve them ahead of time (Anderson Cooper tried and was refused while Hugh Jackman was rumored to have waited in line) and there are Craig’s List professional shoppers who you can hire to stand in line and deliver your Cronuts personally to you if you pony up $30-$40 per pastry for the pleasure.

Given all of the this, is it any wonder that I decided ahead of time that I LOVE and had to have my very own Cronut on my recent NYC trip?  Well, that is until I saw a photo of one close-up and realized it had a weird gooey cream oozing out of its center which immediately made me nauseous.  Like really sort of sick.  Cause I’m more of a chocolate cake kind of guy.  Always was.  Which in turn leads me to admit that I HATE Cronuts and the elitist idea of them.  At least for now.  Or until I taste one.  At that point, it can go either way.

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.

——–

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.