Monday, February 28, 2011

Kardashian's Are Worth $65 Million

In the midst of the Oscar hoopla and the Charlie Sheen madness (and I do mean madness, clearly, there is something wrong with him) the last few weeks of entertainment news has been either beyond dull or relatively non-existent. One story that popped up on my radar; and it only popped once and if it hadn’t been for Comcast I wouldn’t know about it. The story: the Kardashian family made sixty five million dollars last year. Yes, that is what has been reported. Stop right now – literally, stop right now – and think about this.

I don’t like to do snide commentary, but this is so appalling to my heart, soul and mind that I had to pull out my inner Dennis Miller and rant about it. Can you imagine living in a world where these “entertainment” folks make this kind of money? Well, we do. Please don’t get me wrong since I’m a bona fide capitalist with do-gooder intentions, but non-Socialist tendencies. These folks (they would never think of themselves as folks, but that’s why I’m writing/saying it) have absolutely no reason to be making anything off of the world of show business. There are three sisters in the act with Kim being the queen bee of the sisters. The mother manages to get her dirty laundry out there as well; and I guess the now non-nosed Bruce Jenner (stepdad to the three non-acting, non-singing, non-dancing, non-comedic sisters) doesn’t even fit into this $65 million total. What happened to him? This was the man who so poetically ran around the track with flag in hand during the Bicentennial year of the United States of America! Now he’s shilling for the E Channel. I feel dirty watching the channel’s programming (outside of their inane coverage of Awards programming and whenever they put Joan Rivers on the air).

I subscribe to a wide variety of magazines and I admit I still subscribe to some of the celebrity tabloids. We all have our shallow and superficial sides. The celebrity rags are great at the gym. Absolutely fantastic for the elliptical. I just turn pages to look at photos while I’m pumping my gluteus, quadriceps and hamstring muscles. I do not have to think for one second and that is the reason why I like the tabloids. I also get some relatively worthwhile style and beauty tips and it sort of keeps me young. If you don’t read these tabloids you would have absolutely no idea that in some world (our present world) people like Leighton Meister, Lauren Conrad and Rachel Bilson matter.

The Kardashian girls are my worst nightmare. They exude the philosophy that sex will empower you. It doesn’t. “Sex and the City” changed our world and not for the better. When I was coming of age the characters of Mary Richards and Pepper (well, they tried, but the name kind of bottoms it all out) Anderson were the television role models. They were strong, smart and independent. I’m not being old school and even if I were we could use a bit of old school back in our societal clutch. Women today, particularly young women lean on the notion that hooking up with as many men as possible will empower them. Again, it doesn’t. It ultimately throws you to the ground with a burdensome self-loathing and lack of self-esteem. It causes high rates of sexually transmitted diseases and the emotional toll is too much for any one human to bear – male or female. What are we teaching our daughters? Be like the men used to be. Noticehow I say “used to be.” Young women today want to shag and shop. If they aren’t shagging and shopping, then they are not showering and wearing pajama bottoms to the grocery store. When did everyone become a bona fide slob?

This sister act possesses no talent. They don’t sing, act, dance, tell jokes, but they do shed clothing when they can, although they do it without any sensuality displayed. Remember, Kim Kardashian’s sexless turn on “Dancing with the Stars?” Florence Henderson and Cloris Leachman exuded as much sex appeal as Miss Kardashian displayed. I’m not joking. It’s T&A without any sense of self. Women know when other women have it. Kathleen Turner in “Body Heat” had it. Angelina Jolie in “Mr. & Mrs. Smith” had it (much to Jennifer Aniston’s dismay). Rita Hayworth in “Gilda” had it. Ann-Margret in just about anything from the 1960's. Watch "The Swinger." You get my point.

I always recall the clip of Kim Kardashian saying how honored she was to be offered the opportunity to appear in Playboy. Where is Betty Friedan? Gloria Steinem? Shirley Chisholm? Can you imagine a woman saying this? What happened to the women’s movement? There was a time they protested porn shops and strip joints. Not today. Today, you have women’s magazines suggesting to women that a good way to make a few extra bucks is to take on exotic dancing as a side job. Yes, this is straight out of a woman’s magazine that I cancelled the day after this issue arrived. I told them why I was canceling and they didn’t care. Just didn’t care.

The Kardashian’s are laughing all the way to the literal bank. They are attaching their names to diet products, clothing lines, perfumes. These women/girls have no talent and yet here we are sitting in a beaten down economic environment and they are reaping rewards for their bad girl behavior. We need a whole new crop of women to rise up and say hell no, we don’t want to do this anymore. These are not the women who will be our role models.

Unfortunately, I fear and suspect that will not happen. Everyone wants their fifteen minutes of fame and between the multitude of sleazy chicks on “The Bachelor,” the caricatures of mean women on all of those goofy housewife shows and the glorification of unwed women with babies in their arms this clearly AIN’T gong to happen.

When the Kardashian girls are no longer popular sellers for the celebrity rags we will get a new crop of bad girls. More will no doubt come straight out of Hugh’s house (oh wait, he’s marrying one of them). Wake up women. Of course, by then, the Kardashian’s will be worth $120 million and none of them will ever have to work again.

One good note is that everyone seems to be making fun of them. Within the last couple of months four programs had storylines scoffing at the Kars, including “Saturday Night Live.” Maybe we’ll get lucky and with enough people making fun of them they will become the non-political Sarah Palin’s of our world. Having ended this on that note, Sarah Palin is better looking and she’s way brighter; and that’s a tough thing to have to say.

Friday, February 25, 2011

"Spartacus: Gods of the Arena" on Starz -- Finale Tonight!

If you've been thrilling to the exciting and often erotic exploits on Spartacus: Gods of the Arena, the Starz Original Production, then you know the six-episode run of this sequel to the first series is finishing up tonight. By Jupiter's...uh, we try not to use that kind of language on The Nose, but gosh -- we're going to miss this series!

We don't want to give away anything, so if you haven't yet caught Spartacus fever, maybe hold off, watch the preceding five episodes, and then do tonight's finale. It's definitely possible to watch the episodes of Spartacus: Gods of the Arena without knowing about the original Spartacus: Blood and Sand, whose twelve episodes are by now legend among fans of the series. (Of course, you've got to watch those, too, as soon as possible!).

Here's a little intro to tonight's festivities by series/producer Stephen S. DeKnight:

And here's the official trailer to "The Bitter End" --

I haven't yet had a chance to give this newest gladiator saga its proper due here, but I will say that I believe it lies on that gloriously bloody and bawdy continuum of TV sagas about The Roman Empire which begins with I, Claudius, claws its way through HBO's Rome, and now culimates in the deliriously entertaining Spartacus. More on this soon!

All Hail the Finale of Spartacus! Tonight beginning at 10pm, on Starz!
Update, Feb. 28: Whew! Quite a show! Spartacus fans will be very interested in this Steven S. DeKnight interview by James Hibberd of Entertainment Weekly, focusing on the finale and the future of the series.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Another Oscar Promo -- Long Version!

The Academy just released a longer version of the Oscar Training promo with Anne Hathaway and James Franco:

You also might want to take a look at this article from The Hollywood Reporter which features another funny Anne Hathaway clip, and this earlier article with some hints as to what Franco & Hathaway will be doing come Sunday night.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

My Favorite Living Actor: A Tribute to Robert Duvall

The Academy Awards are coming up this Sunday on ABC as Lisa so eloquently pointed out in the previous post. As usual, this time of year is chock full of impassioned web pundits, weighing in about their favorite movies and pick-the-winner lists. I'm going in a slightly different direction with a tribute to my favorite Academy Award winning actor, Robert Duvall. From the first time I saw him, cowering behind the door in To Kill a Mockingbird, I was hooked. Pale as milk, with blinking eyes that had seen more shadows than sunlight, he was the unforgettable and heroic neighbor, Boo Radley.

Born on January 5, 1931, Mr. Duvall has gone on to amaze in every performance. Not a flashy actor, he inhabits the skin of every character. He won the Best Actor Oscar as the down and out country singer in the 1983 picture Tender Mercies, long before Jeff Bridges won Best Actor (last year!) as a down and out country singer in Crazy Heart. His line in Tender Mercies, "I just don't trust happiness anymore" carries the weight of the world. He was in the original True Grit with John Wayne, long before Jeff Bridges (a perennial Flaming Nose Favorite) was nominated for best actor in this year's Best Picture contender Coen brother's remake of True Grit.

Robert Duvall has won two Emmy Awards, one as the ranger Gus McCrae in the outstanding miniseries Lonesome Dove. In 2010, he gave an incredibly moving performance (along with Bill Murray) as a hermit with a mysterious past in the indie movie Get Low. He should have received an Oscar nomination for that turn, but alas the field skews considerably younger this year.

Most know Duvall as the Corleone family lawyer Tom Hagen in The Godfather. But I find some of his smaller roles even more compelling. He was cold as a steel conference table as the aptly named TV executive and hatchet man (Frank Hackett) in the 1976 classic, Network. His 1979 performance in The Great Santini was both violent and tragic. As Bull Meechum, the swaggering fighter pilot, he brutalized his family while saving the world.

Did you know that Robert Duvall was the original Frank Burns in MASH, the movie? And how many times have we all quoted his iconic line from Apocalypse Now, "I love the smell of napalm in the morning!" There are not many actors in the world who have starred memorably and gloriously with Marlon Brando in not one...but two classic films. More recently (2003-Secondhand Lions), he was a delight as Hub, the fierce older gentleman with a dashing past and a great penchant for mentoring young boys (and broken down big cats). He even had a brief, haunting turn in the 2009 movie "The Road", as a blind wanderer...riveting as ever, even if only on screen for a few moments.

Born on January 5, 1931 in San Diego, Robert Duvall is a California boy who sounded like a New Yorker in The Godfather, a cowboy in Tender Mercies and a crazy military wild man in The Great Santini. He is whoever we want him to be. And whoever he is...we believe.

Hey Boo. Thank you for all the performances that have touched our hearts or left us terrified. You win the Oscar this year for me. And for all of your work in film and television -- I award you my first ever Flaming Nose Lifetime Achievement Award. Nobody does it better.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Gearing Up for The Oscars, This Sunday on ABC!

It's the place where movies and TV come together, that snazzy intersection of style and substance -- get ready for The Oscars, coming up this Sunday night on ABC!

ABC's Oscar site isn't much to crow about -- check it out by clicking here -- but they do have a downloadable nominee sheet that might help you keep track of the winners. What they don't have is their Oscar Countdown widget available for posting, which seems like a miss. They also have a new feature, a $4.99 "Oscar All Access" pass that gets you and your computer special Flash-technology coverage with exclusive footage and access, of course, to things the rest of us won't be able to view. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' site is more fun, believe it or not, with a Party Kit so you can throw your own Oscar bash (complete with recipes & trivia), and lots of other info.

Much has been made of the choice of acting nominee James Franco and previous nominee Anne Hathaway as hosts for the Awards, but they're both game and talented and a tad nutty, three qualities which should work for them as they perform their duties on Sunday night. A spirited Anne famously joined host Hugh Jackman onstage during his energetic opening number two years ago, available to view here. You might have heard about Franco's Twitter link to a soundfile of him rehearsing a song which apparently won't be on the telecast but definitely provides a few minutes of amusement, including the always-funny sound of genuine laughter from Franco as he cracks up at his efforts. Franco was terrific a couple of years ago when he and his Pineapple Express star Seth Rogan reunited for an Oscar skit:

How about we take a look at the series of promos featuring Franco and Hathaway for Sunday's show -- I think you'll agree that they're pretty cute and that they aren't, as the over-used cliche says, your father's Oscar hosts.

Of course, we think one of the funniest host segments ever was the Paranormal Activity skit performed by last year's hosts Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin, which you can watch again here. (You can't embed it and it's not available in better quality!? How's that even possible?).

You've got a few days to catch up on the movies you haven't seen yet, and with ten Best Picture nominees that's not as easy as it used to be. We'll be featuring more coverage as the week progresses, but get your Oscar duds ready and The Flaming Nose will be watching with you!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

"Episodes" Season 1 Final Episode on Showtime Tonight!

The first season of Showtime's comedy Episodes concludes tonight at 9:30p with episode 7, a short run but one with many laughs and some charming performances by a great cast. We covered Episodes here a couple of weeks ago, and hope that you've checked in on it and discovered its somewhat snarky charms. Of course we like the British element of it, but we've also been impressed by Matt LeBlanc's work, in the broader moments and also in the more reflective sequences. Plus, he looks terrific and his work here proves that whatever zing he brought to Friends wasn't an accident. He's really good.

Here's one of those broader moments from last week's episode:

That episode also brought an unexpected plot development, repercussions of which will doubtless be address this week, and how! Not sure if I thought it was particularly true to at least one of the characters involved, but hey, it's Hollywood and anything can happen!

Here's a clip from tonight's finale, as the sitcom-within-a-sitcom, the horribly-mangled-for-America-"Pucks" concludes shooting, to decidedly not universal approbation.

I can't locate info whether or not Episodes has been renewed for a second season yet, but naturally we're rooting for one. Do check out our previous post for some other work by Tamsin Greig and Steven Mangan which you'll enjoy if you've discovered them in Episodes.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Serene Branson Interview on "The Talk" on CBS

Los Angeles KCBS reporter Serene Branson is back, feeling well, and appearing on CBS' chat show The Talk, relating what happened last Sunday night. Please see our previous post here for the backstory on her scary Grammy-night on-air aphasia event, and yesterday's story from The Los Angeles Times. Lots of interesting medical information contained in the following interview, too.

CBS seems determined not to endorse the actual on-air footage, but you can see it here.

It's impossible not to pay attention to something when something like this happens, but let's hope that the ultimate takeaway is more information and more understanding out there.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Sunset Limited: Don't Miss This Train

Last Saturday HBO premiered an original movie which has content quite rare for TV. The Sunset Limited has no car chases, no explosions, no nudity, no snarky irony, and no amply endowed young starlets. Based on a play by Pulitzer prize winning author Cormac McCarthy (arguably one of the best living writers in the U.S. today), the entire movie takes place inside a run down apartment near an urban subway station. There are only two characters; a college professor (White) played by Tommy Lee Jones (who also directed) and an ex-con (Black) played by Samuel L. Jackson. We never see the action that ignites the philosophical argument forming the core of The Sunset Limited. White tries to kill himself by jumping in front of a train, and Black saves him. They retreat to Black's apartment, where he spends the next hour and a half trying to convince the professor that life has value and God exists. His words (and performance) are riveting.

The argument is not new, or even original. What is faith? What happens after you die? What makes life worth living? Is God real? What makes this play so captivating, are the words, which dance and spin and terrify. Tommy Lee Jones doesn't speak his lines...he moans them. It isn't so much that life is awful, it's exhausting. Samuel L. Jackson is magnetic. He thunders, he begs, he swaggers across the room with faith that is sublimely confident. As the ex-con, he should be the threatening presence in the room, but he is instead the redeemer. Tommy Lee Jones is at once pitiful and malevolent. His character is wrongly named, for his steadfast conviction that life is meaningless is the dark force in the room.

If you love words, philosophy and world class performances, don't miss this drama on HBO. If you want to watch something that will make you think instead of sucking brain cells right out of your head, watch The Sunset Limited. You'll want to catch it now, because it will be reaping a boatload of Emmy Awards this September.

RISE -- Figure Skating's Tragic Legacy

A heads-up here for something that's not strictly television, but of course intersects with The Flaming Nose in many ways. A new feature documentary RISE will premiere tonight in movie theaters across the country, along with live coverage from a NYC event hosted by Matt Laurer. RISE commemorates the 50th anniversary of the terrible Sabena air crash of February 15, 1961, that killed the entire U.S. Figure Skating team on its way to the World Championships in Czechoslovakia. (An encore presentation has been added for March 7th.)

Figure Skating has been a staple on TV for many years, especially so as television discovered -- to nobody's surprise -- that it was the highest rated event in Olympics coverage. From exciting events on ABC's Wide World of Sports to more modern venues, Figure Skating utterly captured viewers' imaginations. There was an almost insane surge of skating on TV after the hoopla surrounding Nancy Kerrigan and Tanya Harding (can you believe it's been nearly 20 years since that incident?), and it continues to entertain. Look at this classic footage with Peggy Fleming:

That plane crash in 1961 was a real shocker, wiping out basically the whole swath of figure skating talent at the time and leaving the field vacant for the next group of skaters who would have to fill the void. Eighteen skaters and sixteen coaches, family and friends, along with a planeload of other passengers, perished in the awful calamity. There's always horror connected with a terrible air disaster, but even more unthinkable was the scope of loss, essentially the complete erasure of a huge chunk of youthful sports accomplishment.

Visit the RISE official website, and of course the links we've embedded in this post. The loss of the 1961 figure skating team is a fascinating story, epic in its tragedy and timeless in its human repercussions.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Serene Branson Grammy Incident -- Where Was the Empathy?

Most of you have no doubt seen the scary footage from Sunday night's Grammy coverage by KCBS-TV in Los Angeles, where reporter Serene Branson found herself struggling to speak and eventually ended her short report with complete speech aphasia. Most of the clips have been removed by CBS since yesterday, after they received heavy traffic by curious and often ignorant, rude viewers who sent the video viral, but who also failed to realize that there was nothing "funny" about it at all. The lack of empathy for Ms. Branson's plight was staggering, as evidenced by mocking comments that were completely uncalled for. (Kudos to other commenters who rightfully called for understanding of what had really happened. Not everybody out there is an idiot.) Ms. Branson clearly suffered a frightening on-air medical incident, and deserved none of the cheap shots thrown at her by an unnecessarily vicious public.

I can't even find a copy of the footage to post here, but I do think it's important to see it. What nobody is saying enough is what an incredibly brave and professional job Serene did in finishing her report, handing it off, all the while knowing something terrible was happening to her. She did her job beautifully and skillfully, better than any of the rest of us could under the circumstances, I'm sure. She's a real pro.

Why should we want to see her going through this awful ordeal? Because maybe it will educate us to recognize if someone we know is in neurological distress, possibly from a stroke, or perhaps an impending severe migraine headache, and to get them help as soon as we can. There has been some criticism of the reports that Branson was looked at on the scene by paramedics and pronounced okay, then caught a ride home with a co-worker. Considering what had happened to her, that was an inadequate response and she should have been taken to a hospital immediately. So that's what YOU need to do if it happens to somebody and you're there. Don't forget that.

I did find a good video report from this morning's Good Morning America with Robin Roberts and George Stephanopoulos on ABC, including the footage and some excellent commentary from an M.D. and a female news anchor who similarly suffered an on-air incident, and what that was like. You will gain a new respect for Serene Branson after watching this, I think, and I also think you will be able to see the fear in her eyes that you may not have been able to discern before paying real attention to what was happening to her.

You can watch the Good Morning America report by clicking on this sentence.

NBC's Today also covered the incident this morning, click this sentence.

We've all learned a few things from this event. All our best to Serene.

Update, 2/17: A"Complex Migraine" has been disclosed as the cause of Ms. Branson's on-air episode. Read about it here from People Magazine.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Jeopardy Hosts Man vs Machine!

Heads up to everyone regarding one of the most exciting Jeopardy events in the long history of the program. Over the next three nights, (Feb 14-16) two of the biggest human Jeopardy champs ever (Ken Jennings who won $2.5 million over 74 consecutive Jeopardy episodes as well as Brad Rutter, who has the honor of earning the highest cumulative amount of money on Jeopardy with a grand total of $3.2 million) will face off against the first non-human Jeopardy contestant: an IBM created computing system named Watson.

Tonight's kick-off episode ended in a tie, with both Watson and Mr. Rutter at $5,000, while Ken Jennings came in second with $2,000. The grand prize winner of the three night competition will win $1 million dollars. Both Jennings and Rutter have pledged to give 50% of their winnings to charity. If Watson wins, IBM will give 100% of the money to charity.

I caught part of tonight's episode and I'm here to say that Watson has a lovely calm voice, and both humans looked a little nervous. The Borgs, Terminator and the Matrix vs Man. What is this Jeopardy tournament times ten? Check your local ABC stations tomorrow and Wednesday at 7pm.

Happy Valentine's Day with Jack Benny!

Did you know that the late, great comedian Jack Benny was born on February 14th? Fitting, as Jack was one big romantic, incredibly devoted to his wife Mary and a completely sweet guy. He was also one of the funniest, most gifted and most normal funnymen that show business has ever produced, remarkably lacking in the obsessive character traits that bedevil some comics. Charming, adorable, silly, prone to fits of uncontrollable laughter -- his comedian pals like George Burns and Danny Kaye often said he was the best audience anyone could have -- Jack Benny was a treasure.

In honor of the 117th anniversary of Jack's birth (he was born in 1894, and died in 1974 at the age of 80), let's present a cute excerpt from The Jack Benny Program with guest star Marilyn Monroe. Marilyn was at the height of her fame, a shimmering beauty and also an adept comedienne, perfectly in tune with Jack (his character at least) at his most smitten.

Happy Birthday, Jack Benny! Happy Valentine's Day, Everybody!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

A Conversation with Writer/Producer, Joan Considine Johnson

Joan Considine Johnson and Gary R. Johnson

Writer/producer, Joan Considine Johnson has been involved in creating a variety of media projects. Her passion and skill at imbuing her projects with heart and humor have resulted in reviews praising her work as well written, honest, full of clarity and emotion. She portrays dramatic and sometimes controversial topics in a family friendly manner. She is a well regarded writer in both live-action and animation.

Judith: Joan, you recently worked on “Olivia” for the Nick, Jr. network. I had no idea going into this interview that you had worked in the animation world. I was only familiar with your live action work. What's the biggest difference between writing live-action vs. writing for an animated project?

Joan: I love writing both and find the writing to be much more alike than you might think. The biggest difference is, in writing for animation, the writer provides more description in the narrative of what the character is doing; in live action, the actors and director add more of that as they block the scene for shooting. That’s not to say I don’t provide some action narrative in a live-action script, particularly if it is key to a line or to understanding what is going on in the scene. In animation, the artists and directors bring ideas to bear as well, but in a broad sense, the writer is more of a director when writing animation than live action.

Judith: You were a story writer and consultant on two of cable's highest rated programs (Rugrats and The Wild Thornberrys). Your work on The Wild Thornberrys received an Emmy nomination. Tell us how you got involved in those projects.

Joan: A writer friend of mine had written for Rugrats and heard the same people were looking for freelance writers for The Wild Thornberrys so he recommended me. I came in with several other prospective freelance writers and participated in a ‘pitching’ session – pitching ideas for storylines – and got a script and ended up on staff. I loved The Wild Thornberrys. It was a wonderful show and so much fun to write. After Thornberrys was over, I switched over to Rugrats which was also great fun.

Judith: Did you think they would become as big as they became?

Joan: They were both already launched before I started writing on them and were obviously well received and deservedly so. I think the reason they became as big as they did is because they were clever, well-written shows with fun characters that both parents and kids enjoyed watching. The shows taught kids lessons, but they were rooted in character and in smart, fun ways. They weren't saccharine or earnest. They often had humor that worked on two levels, one for adults and one for kids – like all the great classic cartoons (Bugs Bunny et. al.)

Judith: You went from the Rugrats television series to working on the Rugrats movie sequel, Rugrats in Paris. What was the single biggest creative challenge going from the television series to the filmed version?

Joan: For the movie, I came in after the script was already written and did a ‘punch-up’ session – several writers in a room going through the script and pitching lines to help make the already funny script even funnier wherever possible. It’s always a blast to see ideas build on one another and get crafted and tweaked so that what was at first a funny line becomes a hysterical line.

Judith: Television is a quick medium to get a project launched, whereas a film could take literally years to get made. Having worked in both, which do you prefer?

Joan: While I like them both for different reasons – some stories are better for film, others for television – I do love television. I like seeing what I write produced, I like exploring characters over lots of stories and situations, I like being part of a staff and working with the cast and crew over a longer period of time and I like the immediacy of it – you write it, then it’s prepped, shot (or in the case of animation, designed, drawn and voiced), edited, posted and aired! Of course that all only happens if your show is picked up and then stays on the air!

Judith: You worked on The Lion King's Timon and Pumbaa direct to DVD project Being a Disney alum I have to ask about your experience on Timon and Pumbaa. The filmed version and eventually the stage version of The Lion King became gigantic successes for The Walt Disney Company. How did you get involved with this entry of The Lion King?

Joan: This was the first (and only) job I got through an agent. It was also actually the first animation script for which I got paid. Disney had already done a season of The Lion King’s Timon and Pumbaa and had brought new writers in to pitch for freelance scripts and I ended up writing three episodes. Did I mention I love writing animation?

Judith: You were selected to be part of the Hanna-Barbera Animation Scriptwriting Program. I loved Hanna-Barbera Studios. What a collection of great cartoons! The Flintstones, The Jetsons, Hong Kong Phooey, Huckleberry Hound, Magilla Gorilla, Quick Draw McGraw, Wally Gator, Yogi Bear and Boo-Boo, Scooby-Doo and my personal favorite, the mighty Touche Turtle. Touche Away! The brave, little turtle who did good things. I loved Touche as a kid and I have even amassed a Touche Turtle collection, although, now I have to figure out what to do with it. Did you love Hanna-Barbera cartoons growing up? Was this a dream come true?

Joan: I remember Touche Turtle! And wow, that list has so many of my favorites – I loved The Jetsons and Magilla Gorilla (I can still sing at least part of that end theme song) and on and on. I hadn’t been in Los Angeles all that long (after moving from Ohio) when a friend told me about the scriptwriting program and I applied. It was an amazing experience to walk down the halls and see all this incredible artwork. I learned a great deal in that program.

Judith: Who are your all-time favorite cartoon characters?

Joan: How can you choose?!! Of course I love plucky Eliza Thornberry of The Wild Thornberrys and brave little Tommy of Rugrats. Growing up, I was a fan of Astro the dog on The Jetsons (did you know his real name is Tralfax? That was in an episode) and I also liked Rosie the Robot on that show. Besides all the regulars everyone loves (the Warner Bros. & Disney characters), I’ll throw out there Johnny Quest and his dog Bandit. And, if we go beyond series to Christmas specials, I love the Peanuts characters in Merry Christmas Charlie Brown and all the Who’s down in Whoville in How the Grinch Stole Christmas – and I am a complete sucker for the claymation Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer gang – I collect those figures!

Judith: I love all of those Christmas specials too. Fond memories. You were a creative consultant and writer on the two highest rated series that ever aired on the PAX network. Both Doc starring Billy Ray Cyrus (between his Achy Breaky period and Miley's rise) and Sue Thomas F.B. Eye were quite successful for PAX. Sue Thomas F.B. Eye has been out on DVD for a year now. What have sales been like?

Joan: For those who may not know, Sue Thomas: F.B.Eye is a series that was inspired by a real woman who was deaf who went to work for the FBI; when they found out how well she could read lips, they put her in surveillance to help catch the bad guys! She also had one of the first ‘hearing’ dogs that would alert her when the doorbell would ring or a smoke alarm would go off. The series had action, comedy, romance and wonderful characters played by fantastic actors.
DVD sales have been great – people who know the show love it and are ecstatic all the episodes are available on DVD. But we know there are legions of people who don’t yet know the show and would love it – as well as thousands of more fans who do love it and may not be aware that the show is now on DVD so we appreciate the chance to spread the word. The DVDs are available at

Judith: Will you be bringing Doc out on DVD as well? Have you kept in touch with Billy Ray Cyrus?

Joan: For those who may be unfamiliar with Doc, it was a series about a country doctor from Montana who moves to New York City to work in an HMO – a fish out of water story with lots of humor and drama – and of course great characters and fabulous actors! As you said, it was very successful and fans still love it. We hope that Doc will be able to be put out on DVD – we’ll have to keep you posted on that. And we do touch base with Billy Ray from time to time – he really brought a lot to the show.

Judith: Are either of the shows still airing in reruns anywhere?

Joan: Both shows are airing on GMC (found on DirecTV, Sky Angel, Verizon FiOS and some cable systems) - Sue Thomas: F.B.Eye airs Monday-Friday at 3pm EST and Wednesdays and Thursdays at 9 & 10pm EST; Doc airs Monday-Friday at 4pm EST. Sue Thomas: F.B.Eye also airs in Canada and the UK.

Judith: Sue Thomas was based on a true story. How did you get involved with this project and why?

Joan: The creators, Dave Alan Johnson and Gary R. Johnson had been approached by a rep from a film company which owned the rights to the real Sue Thomas’ autobiography. They were both busy on other projects but the rep said, ‘Just meet with Sue.’ Well, if you’ve ever met or seen the real Sue Thomas, who’s now a motivational speaker, you know how amazing she is – and before the meeting was even over, they agreed to do the project. So it was originally written as a feature – and there were actually several opportunities to make it as a feature over a few years but it never came together. Then, when we were all doing Doc, PAX wanted Dave and Gary to do another series – and that series became Sue Thomas: F.B.Eye.

How I got involved requires a little more backstory: I met Dave years ago as a writer; he was a fan of my work and wanted to hire me but wasn’t running a show right then. So when ‘Doc’ and Sue Thomas: F.B.Eye came along, he hired me. The fact that, in the time in between, he introduced me to his brother Gary and Gary and I fell in love and got married, were honestly not a factor. As we say, my writing got me a husband – my husband didn’t get me a writing job!

Judith: I love dogs (Joan has two golden retrievers), so I need to ask the question. Is Levi (the hearing dog in the show) still with us?

Joan: Levi was the hearing dog in the show – he was played by a dog named Jesse Renfro. He was amazing – he could do almost anything! We all loved that dog and I’m sad to say he was diagnosed with cancer and died a year after we finished shooting.

Judith: Sorry to hear that. I loved that dog! The show did a tremendous amount for the deaf community. Explain the kind of reaction you received? Did you have a burden for this community prior to your getting involved with the material?

Joan: We wanted to tell Sue’s story and share her experience and her message that ultimately, we are all more alike than we are different. And doing it as a series rather than a feature also gave us the opportunity to have lots of different deaf characters and tell many different stories. We got a great response from both deaf and hearing audiences.

Judith: Deanne Bray (Sue Thomas) was deaf. What a monumental move to hire her to play this role? How did that come about?

Joan: Until Sue Thomas: F.B.Eye, there had never been a series where a deaf actress played the title role. And this role was a tall order to fill: we were looking for a deaf actress who could speak well enough that people wouldn’t know she was deaf; someone who captured the essence of the real Sue Thomas; someone who had the acting chops and charm and charisma to carry a series – and it wouldn’t hurt if she was also beautiful! Deanne had done some acting and was teaching deaf and hard-of-hearing students in East Los Angeles when she came in to audition – and she fit every one of our criteria and brought even more to the role. She is a wonderful actress and literally the answer to our prayers. She continues to act and was a regular on Heroes last season.

Judith: You've been fortunate to gain work in a business where everyone wants to be a writer. You were one of 13 writers chosen from 3000 applicants to receive a Walt Disney Writing Fellowship. Your writing gained you entry into the Warner Bros. Writing Program, the American Film Institute’s TV Writing Workshop and the Hanna-Barbara Animation Scriptwriting Program. What was the process like to enter these various programs? Such a huge success to be part of not one, but four major writer's programs.

Joan: Each had its own process – some had forms, some had interviews – but all required sample or ‘spec’ script submissions. I had written quite a few spec scripts – sample episodes of shows currently on the air to show you can write a story, know plot, can capture character voices, know how to do an act break, etc. – in short, to show you can write a script! By writing so many sample scripts (which you do not get paid for), I had worked on my craft so I had some strong samples to enter.

Judith: You started your career in local television working as the Assistant Director of Marketing, Promotion and Publicity for WBNS-TV, (CBS affiliate) in Columbus, Ohio. How did you find yourself at WBNS? What motivated you to go in that direction out of college?

Joan: I always loved television and I always loved writing. The job at WBNS-TV combined those two things: I wrote promos for the news and syndicated shows and, as a plus, I enjoyed the marketing aspect.

Judith: What was your desire as a teen? Did you know early on you wanted to work in media? What brought you to WBNS?

Joan: I’ve always loved television but didn’t know as a teen exactly what I wanted to do in TV. When I was in junior high, I thought of being a studio teacher for child actors. I had read an article about Frances Whitfield who was the teacher for The Sound of Music and The Brady Bunch actors. But as I began writing more and more, I realized I wanted to combine writing and television.

Judith: When did you know you could write and then when did you know you could write well enough to make a living from it?

Joan: I started writing poetry in junior high and then took scriptwriting in college. After I worked in local TV writing promos for several years (when I guess I was making a living from writing J), I decided I wanted to try writing something longer than thirty seconds so began writing spec scripts. I worked on my craft and got encouragement from those who were already making a living at it.

Judith: Are you involved with your Alma Mater, Ohio University? If so, how?

Joan: I don’t get back to OU as often as I’d like. But I stay in touch with some of my professors – and I have a niece and two nephews who currently are at OU. Go Bobcats!

Judith: You have worked with both your husband and your brother-in-law? What's it like working with family? How do you find the balance working with and living with your husband? Any grand lessons to be learned - good or bad, working with family?

Joan: I think it comes down to each individual case; while working with family may not be for everyone, for us, working together works – Gary and I enjoy it. And we also each get time alone since writing is often a solitary endeavor.

Judith: You often speak on panels. Young people are always looking for advice. What is the one piece of advice that you give out knowing that it works.

Joan: The advice I was given when I started out is the advice I now give: if you want to be a writer – write.

Judith: What are your favorite television programs at the moment?

Joan: That’s a tough one – since there are so many shows between network, cable and pay cable and since I don’t and can’t watch them all! But of the ones I watch, I’d pick The Good Wife – real characters, lots of twists, some humor. And The Closer would be a very close second.

Judith: What are your all time favorites programs (comedy and drama)?

Joan: The Bob Newhart Show, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, St. Elsewhere, Hill Street Blues– all classics.

Judith: The Mary Tyler Moore Show is my 2nd all time favorite show (I Love Lucy is number one)! Which films of the last year are worth seeing?

Joan: The King’s Speech, The Fighter, The Social Network and Toy Story 3 – that is a marvelous idea incredibly well-told. Those Pixar guys really know how to tell a story.

Judith: I couldn’t agree more. These were the four best films I saw in 2010. What are your favorite films of all time?

Joan: When Harry Met Sally, It’s A Wonderful Life, – both of which I can watch over and over. An Argentine film called The Official Story that I saw years ago still haunts me.

Judith: I know you are an avid reader (we share that bond). Per a prior discussion I know that you read the Bonhoeffer biography by Eric Metaxas. Having read it are you as surprised as I am that no one ever made this story into a film? Do you think they will now?

Joan: I highly recommend Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy’by Eric Metaxas. He has done a masterful job of telling this amazing true story. I certainly hope that it becomes a film – but only if it’s as well done as Metaxas’ biography.

Judith: What makes you stay in the business?

Joan: I guess it’s the creative itch. It’s great to wrestle with a story, work with fun, creative people and then get to see your work on the air.

Judith: What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

Joan: I took up golf a few years ago – after saying for years that I would never take up golf. But I really enjoy it, even though I have a high handicap.

Judith: What is inspiring you at the moment?

Joan: As we talked about previously, the Bonhoeffer biography was very inspiring to me.

Joan, thanks so much for taking the time to chat with me. Go Touche!

Copyright: The Flaming Nose - This article cannot be reproduced without the consent of the author.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Chris Elliott is "Eagleheart"!

First, a confession. I love Chris Elliott, in his old sticom Get a Life, in his maligned-at-the-time-but-now-adored Cabin Boy feature from 1994, on talk show appearances -- everywhere. I love his mopey charm, his off-kilter adult baby-ish physicality, his goofy smile, his voice -- everything. High hopes loomed for Adult Swim's new live-action law enforcement-show parody Eagleheart, starring Elliot as a vengeance-seeking marshal. Then why did I find that even at fifteen minutes (eleven minus commercials) the first episode felt too long? The show lost its zip the minute anybody except Chris Elliott was onscreen. I wasn't expecting that.

Produced out of Conan O'Brien's company, Eagleheart was announced in late 2009 as a showbiz comedy about a network executive who's sent to Texas to rein in the aging action star of a TV show called "Eagleheart". What we're seeing now as Eagleheart seems to be the show itself and not the behind-the-scenes story. Based of course on Conan O'Brien's former Walker, Texas Ranger film clip favorite Chuck Norris, Eagleheart is a spot-on parodic take on action shows, but there was a little too much plot and dialogue to keep it consistently funny. The producers know their genre, maybe only too well.

Elliott is hilarious, as you can see from the promos. As Chris Monsanto, Elliott is deadpan, absurd, trigger-happy and absolutely perfect.

What doesn't get old is the over-the-top violence and gunplay, played here for laughs and sometimes almost going on too long, but it still works. Certainly not for kids, but Eagleheart airs at midnight on Thursdays (starting last week, and I don't see a replay on the schedule). Don't miss the unexpected visual joke in the opening minutes of the first episode, below; it's a doozy.

Will I watch Eagleheart again? Should you watch it? If you love Chris Elliott, this is a must-watch, or at least a must-try. We all grew up watching real shows with everything that Eagleheart has -- except for Eagleheart's humor and the genius of Chris Elliott -- so a little more can't hurt us at this point.

If you're a Chris Elliott lover, too, you'll enjoy this hilarious blast from the past below, a short scene from the beloved now-cult classic Get a Life which ran on the nascent Fox network for 35 episodes beginning in 1990.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Happy Birthday to Zsa Zsa Gabor!

Good News! She's been through some terrible health situations of late, but she's evidently leaving the hospital today to celebrate her 94th birthday! Zsa Zsa Gabor, glamour girl of the 1950s and international celebrity since then, has been a mainstay on television for much of her career, with appearances on talk shows, dramas and many comedies. Playing herself as well as different characters, Zsa Zsa was always a sparkling presence, exhibiting a keen comic timing as well as being just plain gorgeous.

We fondly remember her guest roles on many of the most popular series of their era, including Mister Ed, My Three Sons, Batman, Night Gallery, Name of the Game, The Rounders, Burke's Law, The Danny Thomas Show, Gilligan's Island (right) and many others, including a large number of anthology dramas. Period pieces often exploited her Hungarian heritage to cast her as an exotic beauty, such as in Bonanza where she played a gypsy charmer who tells Hoss' fortune, and F Troop (left) where she played another beautiful gypsy wanderer.

We particularly love her in this Mister Ed episode. She's a vision as we see her for the first time, plus if you haven't seen the show in a while, Mister Ed is really funny. A great comedy performance by Alan Young as Wilbur, as well as from the supporting cast of seasoned veterans, including Jack Albertson in a guest role here, makes Mister Ed a continuing treat, and it's available on Hulu!

We also like her in this guest appearance as one of the Mystery Guests on What's My Line?. If you want contemporary proof of what a celebrity she really was, listen to the gasps of delight as she enters and signs her name on the chalkboard. They love her, and she is radiant. (Not sure which of her four times as the Mystery Guest is one is; she appeared in 1953, 1957, 1959 and 1960. This looks like either 1953 or 1957 to me, though.)

To show you how game she was for anything, here are some clips from her appearance on the syndicated Sha Na Na comedy/variety series, from the late 1970s.

Zsa Zsa was a frequent and beloved guest on talk shows everywhere. She was a favorite of Johnny Carson (remember the famous "pussy" reference which never actually happened?), as well as every other talk show of the day (and there were plenty). Merv Griffin was a big fan of hers, and Zsa Zsa was also a recurring guest on game shows like The Hollywood Squares. Zsa Zsa Gabor was everywhere, including Australia in 1987 where she appeared on one of the hilarious The Dame Edna Experience specials, starring Barry Humphries as the completely amazing and beloved Dame Edna. Here's a clip from that one:

We also love her in this commercial for Lawry's Salt, which just happens to be my favorite seasoning salt and has been a mainstay in my kitchen (and my father's before me) for ever and always!

The Flaming Nose offers Best Wishes for a Happy Birthday to Zsa Zsa Gabor, a genuine show-biz survivor!