Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Flaming Nose Happy Birthday List for November 20th!

A nice array today of Happy Birthday celebrants!

The urbane British journalist, author and TV host Alistair Cooke was born on Nov. 20, 1908, and passed away in 2004.  Probably best loved here for his longtime hosting duties on PBS' Masterpiece Theatre, he was a welcome visitor to our homes as he brought us such delights as Upstairs, Downstairs and I,Claudius.  Watching these brilliant programs wouldn't have been half as enlightening without his introductions.

Actress, comedienne, singer Kaye Ballard turns 88 today!  This multi-talented show business veteran has done it all and is still doing it, with a new CD and an autobiography out.  Kaye's got a terrific website which you should visit by clicking here.  Happy Birthday, Kaye Ballard!

The tremendously talented actress Estelle Parsons turns 86 today, also.  Estelle started her career in TV on the Today show as a news personality back in 1952, and transitioned into acting with roles in quality TV dramas of the early sixties.  Her work in movies earned her an Academy Award for 1967's Bonnie and Clyde.  Parsons mixed the big screen work with her prodigious stage career and even more roles on TV, including amazing work in The UFO Incident as Betty Hill, her long stint on Roseanne and a recent appearance on The Good Wife.  Happy Birthday, Estelle Parsons!

Hogan's Heroes co-star and longtime Family Feud game show host Richard Dawson was born on this date in 1932 and passed away in June of 2012.

One half of the Smothers Brothers was born on this date, as Dick Smothers celebrates his 74th birthday today.  This enormously talented musician, actor, and comedian was one of the pioneers pushing the boundaries of television content past the comfortable norm on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour variety show in 1967.  Fewer remember that he and his brother Tommy had an earlier sitcom of a more conventional nature.  Familiar and welcome faces all over TV, Dick Smothers and his brother Tom's affability allowed them to lead with laughs and take television to a better and more honest place.  Happy Birthday, Dick!

Finally, the lovely Veronica Hamel celebrates her 70th birthday today.  Best known for her co-starring role on Hill Street Blues during the 1980s, before that breakout success she was a frequent guest star on a wide variety of series.  Veronica subsequently became a mainstay female lead in a wide assortment of TV movies and other TV appearances, including a recurring role on Lost.   Happy Birthday, Veronica Hamel!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Flaming Nose Happy Birthday List for November 19th

An abundance of riches today!  In order of birth year, as follows:

Alan Young, born on this date in 1919.  He's most famous, TV-wise, for his delightful starring -- though not titular -- role in the charmingly absurd early 1960s sitcom Mister Ed, opposite Connie Hines and the voice of Chill Wills as the talking horse.  The versatile Young had already starred in his own radio show and later a  TV comedy/variety show at the beginning of the previous decade, and of course we also remember him so well as the kindly friend of H. G. Wells in the classic 1960 movie version of The Time Machine.  In addition to acting roles, Young became a much sought-after animation voice actor and he's still working today!  Be sure to visit his wonderful official website and pick up a copy of his autobiography Mister Ed and Me and More!.   Happy 94th Birthday, Alan!

Talkmeister Larry King was born on this day in 1933.  The New York-born King became a well-liked radio personality on Florida radio in the late 1950s, eventually moving into his trademark call-in format which went national in the late 1970s.  CNN cable founder Ted Turner plucked King and put him on TV in the same format, a winning recipe that became legendary as virtually anybody who was ANYBODY wanted to get on his show.  He retired from CNN in 2010, but has returned to the interviewer role on his web project Ora TV where he hosts Larry King Now.  Larry King is a legend!  Happy 80th Birthday, Larry!

It's almost hard to believe that fellow talk show host Dick Cavett celebrates his 77th birthday today!  Smartly funny, provocative, willing to go to to more intellectual places with his interviews than most of the other men doing the same job, Dick Cavett hosted his eponymous TV talk show The Dick Cavett Show from 1968 - 1974 and thereafter in various incarnations over the years.  (Many available on DVD and also on YouTube). His beginnings as an actor and stand-up comic served him well as he matched wits with a wide array of personalities and seemed to make genuine connections with many of them. Cavett now writes for The New York Times.  Happy Birthday, Dick!

It's also crazy but true that the man who put Larry King on CNN also celebrates his birthday on this day.  Media mogul, philanthropist, champion yachtsman Ted Turner turns 75 today! From a somewhat challenging childhood to advertising mogul and then on to creating the world's first 24 news network, Turner has always led from his passion and achieved incredible things over his amazing career.  He was the only head of a television network -- networks, that is -- who was more interesting than anything he could possibly put on the air.  CNN aired Ted Turner: The Maverick Man earlier this week; worth watching!  Those of us who worked at any of the Turner networks usually have several Ted Turner stories in our memories; I'll share mine one of these days here.  Happy Birthday, Ted!

We can't leave the ladies out for November 19th, so we wish a very Happy 54th Birthday to Allison Janney, star of The West Wing and currently this season Mom and Masters of Sex.  The multi-talented Jodie Foster celebrates her 51th Birthday today also.  Though perhaps best known these days for her motion picture career both in front of and now in back of the camera, Jodie started out in TV guest roles as a child and became a familiar face in shows such as The Courtship of Eddie's Father, Gunsmoke, My Three Sons and many others, including a starring role as Addie in the TV version of Paper Moon.  Once she hit motion pictures screen in Taxi Driver she left TV behind, but it was a wonderful training ground for this mature and intelligent actress.  Happy Birthday to these talented ladies!

We'd also like to say Happy 59th Birthday to actress Kathleen Quinlan who's done a lot of TV over the years, including The Waltons, Ironside, Little Ladies of the Night, and more recently Family Law, Prison Break and Chicago Fire.  A Happy 60th Birthday also to actor Robert Beltran, much loved for his co-starring role in Star Trek: Voyager and many other TV appearances including in the terrific SyFy channel movie Manticore!

Monday, November 18, 2013

The Flaming Nose Happy Birthday List for November 18th!

This day is all about the ladies, three very different yet talented females -- one of whom has sadly passed on -- but all with their own individual niche in pop culture.

First, the sultry-voiced actress Brenda Vaccaro celebrates her 74th birthday today.  Academy Award and Tony-nominated and Emmy-winning, Vaccaro's extensive theater training was put to use in TV beginning in the early 1960s with guest roles in Naked City, The Fugitive, Marcus Welby, The Defenders, and many others.  She gained wide critical acclaim for her role on the big screen in Midnight Cowboy, but still made many TV appearances on series and TV movies (Sunshine) and specials (winning an Emmy for The Shape of Things to Come in 1973).  Vacarro had a well-publicized romance with Michael Douglas in the early 1970s and made two appearances on his series The Streets of San Francisco.  She starred as the title character in the short-lived feminist western Sara in 1976 and was Emmy-nominated for it, too.  Both movies and TV filled her calendar, with roles in Zorro: The Gay Blade, Airport '77, Supergirl, The Love Boat, Guyana Tragedy, Capricorn One, The Pride of Jesse Hallam and many others.  She co-starred in the also short-lived series Paper Dolls, started doing voice work in animation (Smurfs, Spawn, Johnny Bravo), and continues to appear in quality projects in including HBO's 2010 TV Movie You Don't Know Jack for which she received another Emmy nomination as Outstanding Supporting Actress.  Vaccaro also became known for a breathy tampon commercial she made, which we've included below (along with the parody of it from SCTV by Andrea Martin).  Happy Birthday to this talented favorite!

The lovely actress Linda Evans celebrates her 71st today!  A true lady of TV, the fresh-faced Evans had
her first TV role on Bachelor Father, then found further work on comedies like The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet and My Favorite Martian and also on dramas The Untouchables, The Eleventh Hour, The Lieutenant, and Wagon Train.  She achieved true TV stardom with her co-starring role on The Big Valley (1965 - 1969) playing ranch owner Barbara Stanwyck's winsome but strong-willed daughter Audra.  Following the end of that series, she returned to guest roles in shows like McCloud, Mannix and many others and became a multi-episode guest on The Love Boat.  Evans finally hit 1980s pop culture pay dirt in a huge way with her starring role on the long-running (8 seasons) glamorous nighttime soap Dynasty.  Her onscreen rivalry and knock-down drag-out tussles with Joan Collins became legend.  She's semi-retired now, but we'll always remember her as Krystle Carrington and Audra Barkley!

Lastly we say a Happy Birthday to the late comedienne Imogene Coca, born on this day in 1908; she passed away in June of 2001.  This prolific comic was multi-talented -- a gifted dancer, singer, acrobat -- making her the perfect performer for the still thriving vaudeville.  She was a featured member in the cast of many revues, at first contributing musical prowess but soon her funny bones began to show and she concentrated in that area.  She tummled with Danny Kaye (and did some very early comedy shorts with him) but achieved her finest collaborations with Sid Caesar, winning an Emmy for Your Show of Shows and staying with Caesar as partner for an initial four years and then reuniting with him on and off several times throughout her career to rekindle their comedy magic. Imogene Coca also starred in two one-seasons sitcoms during the 1960s, the first one 1963's Grindl as an eccentric traveling mad and then as a cavewoman in 1966's It's About Time (with that memorable theme song!).  Younger folks will remember her in the National Lampoon comedy Vacation, but Television remembers her as one of the funniest ladies ever to grace the small screen.  Imogene Coca, you are missed.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Flaming Nose Happy Birthday List for November 17th!

Today is more about behind-the-scenes for us, with two TV production-side stalwarts sharing a November 17th birthday.  But first, a nod to a couple of TV-oriented actors we love.

Danny DeVito turns 69 today!  Best known, at least television-wise, for his five-year run (1978 - 83) on the hit sitcom Taxi as grouchy dispatcher Louie De Palma, De Vito is a multi-talented show business hyphenate, too.  In addition to his myriad acting roles on TV and in movies, he's served as exec producer on TV series including Reno 911 and Karen Sisco, done director duty on TV projects like Amazing Stories, Mary and Taxi (not to mention major motion pictures Hoffa, The War of the Roses, Throw Momma from the Train).  De Vito is now gleefully part of the gang on FXX's all-out comedy It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

And actor Robert Brown turns 87 today!  Need we say anything more than Brown played the strapping lumberman Jason Bolt who traveled to Massachusetts to bring back ladies for his workers in the popular
ABC romantic adventure series Here Come the Brides which aired for two seasons beginning in 1968.  Dashing, vital, deeply handsome in his leather prairie pants...well, Jason Bolt was a frontier dreamboat!  Brown also starred in the title role as Primus for a season in 1971, as well as many other guest star roles both before and after his success in HCtB.  He's also permanently in the cult TV Hall of Fame for his role as Lazarus in the first season episode "The Alternative Factor" from Star Trek: The Original Series.

We also wish a Happy Birthday 86th birthday to casting executive Lynn Stalmaster who began working in the TV industry back in the early 1950s (and acted at first, too) and eventually branched out into casting features.  The names of the projects he worked on is practically endless: Have Gun - Will Travel, Whirlybirds, The Untouchables, Gunsmoke, My Living Doll, Hogan's Heroes, My Favorite Martian, Hey, Landlord, The Rat Patrol, Hart to Hart and more.  He then worked both in features and TV movies, including Farewell to Manzanar, New York, New York, Convoy, Superman, The Right Stuff and so many others.  Stalmaster was nominated for an Emmy for his work on the 1996 TV miniseries Crime of the Century about the Lindbergh kidnapping case.  For a deeper look into his amazing career, you will want to watch his interview at the Archive of American Television, available by clicking here.

Today we also honor veteran TV producer Harry Ackerman, born on November 17, 1912.  Ackerman was the man behind an impressive number of the all-time favorite situation comedies from the late 1950s through the 1970s and beyond.  Ackerman's name is associated with shows like Leave it to Beaver, The Flying Nun, Love on a Rooftop, Bachelor Father, Dennis the Menace, Hazel, Gidget, The Farmer's Daughter, Occasional Wife, The Second Hundred Years, The Ugliest Girl in Town, Bewitched, and The Paul Lynde Show.  That is like a laundry list of some of my favorite shows, even the short-lived ones!  Married for many years to the wonderful actress Elinor Donahue, Harry Ackerman's unerring eye and ear for comedy magic made TV laugh for hundred and hundreds and half-hours.  (Even his flops were interesting!).  He passed away in 1991 and is much missed.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

"The Challenger Disaster" -- Tonight on Science Channel & Discovery

Science Channel premieres its first original scripted movie with tonight's The Challenger Disaster starring actor William Hurt as the charismatic Nobel Prize-winning physicist Dr. Richard Feynman.  Based on the late scientist's 1988 book What Do You Care What Other People Think?, The Challenger Disaster retells the story of the government's Rogers Commission which was charged with investigating the blow-up of the Space Shuttle Challenger on January 28, 1986, and Feynman's crucial role in holding NASA and its contractors responsible for the deaths of its seven crew members.

We're all familiar with William Hurt's major career -- from his early star-making roles such as in Altered States, Body Heat, Eyewitness, The Big Chill, Children of a Lesser God to more recent work as Into the Wild, Mr. Brooks, and The Incredible Hulk.  Hurt is less of a TV name, appearing in a limited number of TV projects including HBO's To Big to Fail, a recurring role in Damages, and as Ahab in a two-part Moby Dick for the Encore pay network.  In addition to Hurt as Feynman, The Challenger Disaster features veteran actors Bruce Greenwood (Star Trek, Flight, Super 8) as fellow Commission member Air Force General Donald Kutnya, Brian Dennehy (The Big C, Cocoon) as politician and Commission head William Rogers, Joanne Whalley (The Borgias, Gossip Girl) as Feynman's wife Gweneth, and Eve Best (Nurse Jackie) as astronaut Sally Ride.

There's no doubt that for many of us of a certain age the Challenger accident was a shock on par with the Kennedy assassination two decades before.  Unexpected, tragic, and -- as we later found out thanks to Dr. Feynman and the Commission -- probably preventable and caused by human failings and petty bureaucracy. The loss of the seven heroic astronauts including Teacher in Space Christa McAuliffe was a sobering reminder of the dangers of space exploration, and of course it was not the last loss of a Space Shuttle.

The Challenger Disaster is a must-watch for all Americans who believe in a strong space program and in the mission of NASA.  The dedicated individuals who make NASA's successes possible deserve the best from us, just as they owe their best to their fellow explorers.

Check out Science Channel's website for The Challenger Disaster by clicking here.  The movie is being simulcast on Science Channel and Discovery tonight at 9pm, with encores at 12m, and also showings tomorrow at 9p and 12m.  Check out The New York Times positive review here, too.

Here's some footage of the real Dr. Richard Feynman talking about his experience on the Rogers Commission.  Fascinating, and you can watch the entire documentary Richard Feynman - No Ordinary Genius here.  Feynman died of cancer in February of 1988 at the age of 69.  What a loss for humanity.

The Flaming Nose Happy Birthday List for November 16th!

Happy Birthday!  We're starting a new feature on The Flaming Nose, birthday shout-outs to TV personalities, actors and behind-the-scenes notables who deserve some love from us!  We're not doing a laundry list, just a few interesting names that we think you remember, too!

Celebrating his 84th birthday today is TV stalwart Clu Gulager, his rugged good Oklahoma boy lucks especially perfect for the TV westerns which were so popular during the heyday of Clu's prolific career.  You'll probably remember him best from his co-starring role on The Virginian from 1963 - 1968, but he also appeared in episodes of everything from The Untouchables to Walker, Texas Ranger.  Gulager has been one of the stalwarts of TV guest star roles -- an almost lost species -- for his entire acting life, always giving a solid performance and making a great impression.  The Tall Man, The Defenders, Dr. Kildare (in the famous Yvette Mimieux epileptic surfer girl episode "Tyger, Tyger"), Wagon Train, The Name of the Game, The F.B.I., Medical Center, Bonanza, Mod Squad, Mannix, Kung Fu, Ironside, Get Christie Love!, Cannon, Police Story...was there any notable series he didn't guest on?  We also can't forget his many movie roles and his very well-regarded work as an acting teacher.  Check out his extensive credits on IMDb and this great article on TV Party about him. You will be awed.  Happy Birthday, Clu!

Also celebrating a birthday is the lovely actress Joanna Pettet, a talented beauty who turns 71 today. She may be best remembered for many roles in popular series of the 1960s, '70s and '80s as well as her appearance as a Bond Girl in Casino Royale.  A guest star on everything from Route 66 to Dr. Kildare, Mannix, Rod Serling's Night Gallery, Charlie's Angels, Knots Landing (recurring role) and so many more, Ms. Pettet was always a treat to watch with her good lucks and expressive slightly husky voice.  Especially memorable was her turn in an episode of Night Gallery as a strangely alluring model; the segment was titled "The Girl with the Hungry Eyes"; you can watch it by clicking here.  Highly recommended!  She is retired from acting now but we fondly salute this uniquely appealing actress.  It's always a treat to run into one of her shows or movies.

You don't even have to do that many things on TV to be a standout, and this applies to accomplished actor Steve Railsback who turns 68 today.  The first time he came on the screen as killer Charles Manson in the legendary acclaimed miniseries Helter Skelter in 1976 was a defining moment in TV movies/miniseries. At a time when the genre turned out out top-notch productions and memorable performances on a regular basis, Helter Skelter and Railsback instantly blew them all away.  The Manson Family has never left the public consciousness, and this TV movie -- a mere handful of years after the actual events and based on the best-selling book by Vincent Bugliosi -- was a must-see event and remains so, primarily for Railsback's riveting portrayal of Manson.  Actually Steven Railsback has a career that is equally divided between TV and movies, including his well-regarded 1980 starring role in The Stuntman and his creepy but compassionate turn as weird lady killer Ed Gein in 2000.  Still very active in the business today, Railsback also gives back to his profession as an acting coach and teacher.

Our gone-but-not-forgotten Happy Birthday goes out to veteran actor Burgess Meredith, a movie and TV favorite who appeared in hundreds of roles during his over sixty-year career.  The enormity and breadth of his talent is readily apparent from a look at his credits on IMDb -- stunning and impressive to the end.  His most memorable TV roles?  Certainly his witty and unforgettable guest shots as The Penguin on the immensely popular Batman; he appeared over twenty times as the crafty villain.  We'd also submit for your approval his poignant and utterly iconic turn as post-apocalyptic librarian Henry Bemis in The Twilight Zone.  Meredith passed away in 1997 at the age of  89.  You are well-remembered, Burgess Meredith, and Happy Birthday.

Stay tuned to The Flaming Nose TV Blog for more birthday celebrations!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

"American Horror Story: Coven" -- Scary, For Real!

I'm a bit of a latecomer to FX's thrillingly macabre American Horror Story, now in its third season.  I was an off-and-on viewer of the previous seasons (catching up now, of course) but I'm completely fascinated by the current storyline and the tremendous collection of acting talent they've put together.  How could you miss with returning favorites Jessica Lange (her wonderful portrayal extra-compelling because there is an overlay of the not-at-all fictional issue of a beautiful woman aging and how she deals with it) and Sarah Paulson, along with new to AHS Kathy Bates, Angela Bassett, Mare Winningham in a brief but effective role, Patti Lupone, and the younger members of the cast.  This collection of talent is a delight to behold.  Let's hear it for the girls on this show; the men are in short supply and at least in this season not quite of sound mind and especially body.

I'm especially enjoying Kathy Bates as the resurrected legendary 19th Century real-life New Orleans baddieMadame LaLaurie, a creepy society dame if there ever was one.  The scenes in AHS:C showing LaLaurie's dank and disgusting basement of horrors didn't descend even a smidgen of the way to the lady's true level of pure evil.  She was sort of the Dr. Mengele of the Vieux Carre, devising hideous experiments and tortures which she gleefully inflicted on her massively unfortunate slaves.  As you might expect, her house -- still standing in its French Quarter historic splendor -- is rumored to be haunted and a few years ago was owned by Nicolas Cage.

Angela Bassett's mysterious and powerful voodoo queen Marie Laveau is also very much a historical reality, not a figure of horror like Madame LaLaurie but rather more a folk heroine.  Her actual grave is still respectfully and often hopefully visited by countless fans every day in New Orleans' St. Louis Cemetery. The endless fascination with voodoo rituals and practitioners keeps Laveau's influence strong and if there's any mano-a-mano coming between her and LaLaurie my money is on Angela Bassett, though a showdown with Lange is more likely.

Be sure to check out the links we've embedded in this post to learn more about the meeting of history, lore and absolutely gruesome television fiction in this season's American Horror Story: The Coven.

American Horror Story: The Coven airs Wednesday nights at 10pm on FX.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

What else can be said? Golden Girls Lego!

That's right! One dedicated fan is currently selling these hand-made sets through their Etsy store. While sold out at the moment, the "Golden Girls" Lego set creator told The Huffington Post that he would have 100 more in stock at some point over the weekend.  
Makes me wonder if there's a market for Lucy Lego.  I'd immediately have to build a replica of the Ricardo's apartment.  Oh, to have Fred & Ethel at each other's plastic throat.  Or... will the copyright police clamp down on all this?  Food for thought, entrepreneurs!

You can read the original story in the Huffington Post - Gay Voices

Friday, October 25, 2013

Blackfish: The Dark Side of Free Willy

I used to live about a mile away from the (now closed) Marineland oceanarium in Palos Verdes California.  It opened in 1954 and had as its main attractions a pilot whale (named Bubbles) and two orcas (Orky and Corky).  The original orcas at the exhibit died, so Marineland just got two new ones and named them Orky and Corky too.  The unfortunate orca replacements lived a lot longer.  Their "home" consisted of a murky cement hole about 30 feet across.  I remember thinking it was a horrible place for such majestic, intelligent animals to live.  Even now when I think about it, I feel sick.  Other large animals at the park had terrible environments as well.  There was a walrus who had gone insane from his captivity, and found solace by lurching out of the filthy depths of his small tank suddenly so the tourists would scream.
I have not been to an animal water park in decades, just don't have the stomach for it.  But the Sea World parks continue to thrive, charging Disneyland-type ticket prices and making millions off of orcas, their star performers.  I think it's time for that to stop, and the movie "Blackfish" confirms my belief.  This documentary focuses on Tilikum, an orca captured as a calf in the wild and confined to various Sea World pools his entire life.  He's gone psycho (who wouldn't?) and has lashed out by killing some of his trainers.  The most recent was Dawn Bracheau, who was dragged under water by her ponytail and drowned.
Orcas are the top ocean predators on earth.  They are extremely intelligent and they hunt in packs.  They are the only animal that has been observed attacking and eating Great White Sharks. If you can turn a one ton eating machine into dinner, you are absolutely the top of the food chain.  And yet, there have been no recorded incidents of orcas fatally attacking humans in the wild.  They have only done so in captivity.
So why are these amazing animals kept on display in tiny habitats, performing tricks like a poodle?  It's the same reason humans have done horrible things to animals and other people throughout history: money.  Orcas make a fortune for Sea World. 
Blackfish aired on CNN on October 24th and will air again this Sunday.  If you're planning a trip to Sea World with the family anytime soon, this movie will make you reconsider.  A trip to Disneyland instead might cause less trauma to your conscience.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Walking Dead is #1: Is Your Zombie Attack Plan Ready?

Halloween is right around the corner, so it's the perfect time to reflect upon the considerable contribution the "undead" have made to TV and movie content lately. Most people would agree that it's great not to be dead.  Unless you're the cast and crew of AMC's #1 television series, The Walking Dead, in which case the deader the better.  Zombies are the premier bad guys in 2013, and no where is this more true than on The Walking Dead as it enters its 4th season. A few years back vampires were the horror hotties, and it's easy to see why.  Pin-up boy vamps on HBO's True Blood (Alexander Skarsgard, anyone?) and the Twilight franchise in the theater (Taylor Lautner, omg) have turned more than a few heads.  But the monster-du-jour that everyone is clamoring for today is less likely to be buff and more likely to be squishy.  In spite of their decaying flesh, missing eyeballs and questionable sense of fashion, Zombies are now the darlings of pop culture.
I've been thinking a lot lately about what makes The Walking Dead so attractive and popular for its TV fans. This season's premier was seen by 16.1 million viewers, which makes it the highest rated entertainment show on cable television ever.  I actually got hooked on it over the summer, and binge viewed my way through two seasons on Netflix in one week and then, to my great astonishment, found myself buying season three on iTunes, something I have never done for any show before.  Why did I become a zombie for the Zombies?  I don't even really like Zombies, to be frank.  Never have before.  They aren't very bright.  You couldn't have an ironic conversation with one at a dinner party.  They are...messy.  And most likely odiferous.
So what's the big deal, why is everyone turning cartwheels for The Walking Dead?  The characters are certainly part of the draw.  Very compelling, powerful and attractive (unlike their zombie foes).  Danai Gurira as the African American sword wielding loner is wonderful and Norman Reedus is outstanding as a scruffy red neck with a heart of gold (and a mean cross-bow).  Andrew Lincoln is the emotional center and capable leader of the surviving humans who are still hiding in a prison from the ravenous "walkers" in this season's end-of-the-world tale.  And I hope to hell they get out of their cell block set soon.  Seriously, a rocky mountain or tropical island change of venue is long overdue.


Plenty of other shows have terrific characters, so that only partially explains why TWD has gone straight to the top of the ratings pile.  I think there is a more cultural, perhaps sinister explanation for its popularity.  We are living in uncertain times.  Terrorism, school shootings, unemployment, government's a jungle out there.  I think people enjoy watching The Walking Dead because its post apocalyptic picture of America is the only thing WORSE than turning on the news and hearing that the U.S. middle class has gone belly up. In real life your 401K has shrunk to the size of a pine nut and you don't have to worry about retirement anymore because you'll be working until you're 90 just to survive.  But at least you don't have to fight off smelly walkers everyday and you can still buy pumpkin ice cream at Trader Joe's for a comfort food fix.  The folks on The Walking Dead eat cold beans out of a can on a good day.
The Walking Dead is on AMC on Sundays at 9pm.  You can catch up on past episodes with cable Demand or Netflix.  And if you really want to impress your Walking Dead loving friends this Halloween, download one of the half dozen zombie apps for Apple or Android which will instantly convert a photo of YOU into a lurching, drooling, lovable zombie of your own. 

Monday, October 21, 2013

HBO Tonight: "Life According to Sam" -- and Yours May Never Be the Same Again...

Once again HBO brings us something sublime and wonderful; tonight it's the premiere of an irresistible documentary entitled Life According to Sam, from Oscar and Emmy-winning producers Sean and Andrea Nix Fine.  Who is Sam?  Sam is Sam Berns, 16 years old (he turns 17 this Oct. 23rd, in fact), a brilliant, funny, delightful, energetic teenager who just happens to have been born with progeria, the unusual disorder that causes youngsters to age rapidly and for which there is currently no cure.

You've probably seen documentaries on TLC or Discovery about kids with progeria; several have been made about this incredible syndrome.  I have long been fascinated by progeria; I first read about it, I'm sure, in the National Enquirer years ago.  That disreputable but crowd-pleasing publication regularly featured stories on progeria-affected children, and though the magazine was only trying to sell papers, what it also did was help bring the stories of these extraordinary children to light at a time when almost no one had heard about the condition.  I was immediately taken with their unique and I've always thought almost magical appearance; they looked to me like super-evolved humans of the future, with their wizened features and hairless domes.  But they're not that; they're only children laboring under early-onset physical maladies of the type many of us will eventually succumb to -- strokes, vascular issues -- only it will takes us decades to get there, and they start out that way.

Life According to Sam is also very much about Sam's parents Scott and Leslie, both doctors, who have taken their love for their own son and their concern for other children with progeria and worked to make a difference -- a real life-changing difference -- in their lives.  We get to see how Leslie has turned progeria research into her medical specialty and come up with tangible results.  We also get to meet other children with progeria who along with Sam are taking part in the medical trials which are part of the arduous process.  Lest you think that this research could only benefit the admittedly small number -- probably less than 150 -- of children currently diagnosed with progeria, the aging process that is overtaking their bodies is the same one, though eight to tens times faster for them, that we all are facing.  Discoveries for these kids might end up helping us all in some way.

You will want to visit the HBO website for Life According to Sam for more information about Sam, his family and the work they are doing; click here. Be sure also to visit the filmmakers' own website about the film for much more background info.  Wikipedia has a fairly concise explanation of progeria here.  People had a profile on Sam ten years ago which you can read here.  Katie Couric had Sam and his parents on her show last week in anticipation of tonight's premiere; you can watch the interview segments here.  Click here for a nice write-up on the special from the Boston NPR station; much of the progeria research is being undertaken at Boston's Children's Hospital.  In addition to those documentaries on TLC, three years ago Barbara Walters did a segment for ABC News entitled 7 Going on 70; watch a little promo for it here and there are links to the full report also.  7 Going on 70 featured young Hayley Okines who has written a book about her life; more information on it here.

I think you're going to become fascinated by progeria after you watch Life According to Sam.  I know you're going to fall in love with Sam Berns.

Life According to Sam premieres on HBO tonight at 9pm, with frequent encores throughout the next several weeks, on HBO On Demand and their online HBO Go service.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The CW Network Fall 2013 -- Odds Bodkins! Smells Like Teen Spirit, All Right...

Though a couple of these premiered on CW last week, better to let the dust settle on the other networks, and settle it has.  FYI, ABC has already lost the much-touted Tuesday night 10pm series Lucky 7 and CBS pulled the plug on their Monday night We Are Men, to be replaced by the returning Mike and Molly which had been on the bench for mid-season.

On CW, Tuesday nights lead off with The Originals, a spin-off from the net's successful The Vampire Diaries.  It's set in New Orleans, does not have high-school kids, has vampires and werewolves and vampire/werewolf babies and a built-in fan base. The Originals has already received an order for additional scripts and this one looks like it's a perfect example of the CW knowing its audience.  Interestingly, though ABC's Marvel Agents of Shield was a huge hit right out of the box there has been a drop which would seem to leave things looking even better for The Originals.  The series stars Brit Joseph Morgan (The Immortals, The Vampire Diaries, Doc Martin, Master and Commander), Daniel Gillies (The Vampire Diaries, Saving Hope, Into the West, True Blood, Spider-Man 2), Claire Holt (The Vampire Diaries, Pretty Little Liars, H2O: Just Add Water, the Australian mermaid series), Phoebe Tonkin (The Vampire Diaries, H2O: Just Add Water, The Secret Circle, Bait), Charles Michael Davis (The Vampire Diaries, Switched at Birth, Grey's Anatomy), Daniella Pineda (Homeland, Hey Girl, Men of a Certain Age, Inside Amy Schumer, The Vampire Diaries), Leah Pipes (Glee, The Vampire Diaries, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles), and Danielle Campbell (Prison Break, Drop Dead Diva).  The Originals airs Tuesday nights at 8pm on the CW, starting October 8th.

Wednesdays at 9pm CW offers up The Tomorrow People, based on a British series of the same name and centered around the precarious existence of teenagers with inherited superpowers and the folks who want to exploit them for their own nefarious ends.  Telekinesis, Teleportation and Telepathy -- Oh my!  These kids aren't just human, they're superhuman, and that's the problem.  Viewed as a threat by a secret military offshoot named Ultra, the Tomorrow teens are literally running for their lives.  The Tomorrow People stars Robbie Amell (real-life cousin to CW's Arrow star Stephen Amell, Alcatraz, Revenge, 1600 Penn, True Jackson, VP), Luke Mitchell (heart throb from the Australian serial drama Home and Away, H2O: Just Add Water), Peyton List (Mad Men, Charlie's Angels, Smallville, 90210, FlashForward, Big Shots, Windfall), Aaron Yoo (The Bedford Diaries, Disturbia, Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, Gamer), Mark Pellegrino (Revolution, Dexter, Supernatural, Being Human, The Closer, Lost) and Madeleine Mantock (Brit med series Casualty).  Do we think this is something anybody other than a disgruntled teenager might want to watch?  Probably not.  (You will love this terrific review from Tim Goodman of The Hollywood Reporter -- hilarious.)  But don't let that stop you!  The Tomorrow People airs Wednesdays at 9pm on the CW, starting October 9th.

Even crabby teens may not want to tune into the CW's new take on medieval history with Reign, a melodrama detailing the romantic troubles of Scottish royal Mary Stuart and the manboys in tights who love her.  Turning the court of France into something resembling the halls of a posh high school on Renaissance dress-up day may not in fact be much of a stretch, but evidently (according to the buzz) Reign goes even beyond the CW's usual pandering to their demographic. Nobody expects an AP History class here, and if it perhaps sparks a real interest in a young person to read more about the actual history it would be a great thing, but it seems unlikely that will happen here.

The cast is gorgeous, though, pretty much a CW requirement:  Australian actress Adelaide Kane (Teen Wolf, Donner Pass, Power Ranger R.P.M.) is the ravishing young Mary Stuart, Canadian actress Megan Follows (Anne of Green Gables, World Without End, I Am Number Four, Heartland) is Queen Catherine of France, Toby Regbo (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows) is a handsome French prince, Torrance Coombs (The Tudors, Heartland, Endgame) is a troublesome illegitimate prince, Canadian Alan Van Sprang (The Tudors, The Immortals, ReGenesis, Being Erica) is King Henry, and others to fill out the codpieces and bodices as the gender requires.  We forgot to mention that Nostradamus -- he of the mysterious quatrains -- makes appearances in Reign, only he's not a decrepit hoary soothsayer but a swarthy hunk played by Canadian actor Rossif Sutherland (E.R.). Tim Goodman from The Hollywood Reporter has supplied another cogently hilarious review of Reign here, as has Robert Biancho writing for USA Today here.  On the other hand, E Entertainment thought it was terrific.  If you are so far out of the demo range that you feel like you were actually there in the 16th Century, then methinks Reign won't be your cup of mead.  Reign airs Thursday on the CW at 9pm, premiering Thursday, October 17th.

More on the Fall Season as we review some of the new offerings and keep up with cancellations such as the two so far that we mentioned in the opening paragraph.  More to come, no doubt.

No matter what, there is a plethora of new shows available for viewing, certainly something for everyone and then some, so don't waste your time with something you don't care for.  You will find your true TV love!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

NBC 2013 Fall Schedule -- The Voice, the Peacock and Michael J. Fox

With three new dramas and three new comedies on the schedule, this fall NBC will be working hard to find new candidates for long-term success.  With their once magnificent Thursday comedy block almost completely revamped for this season after the finales of The Office and 30 Rock, and with CBS' competing comedy block looking like there's at least one strong contender with 9pm's The Crazy Ones, revving up Thursdays nights isn't going to be easy.  More on that later.

Monday night on NBC sees the return of the successful singing competition show The Voice from 8p - 10pm.  NBC is using the strong lead-in to premiere their best chance for a drama hit this season there, much as they previously launched Revolution.  The Blacklist stars unique TV favorite James Spader (Boston Legal, The Office, The Practice, Crash, Stargate, White Palace, Sex, Lies and Videotape) as a brilliant government agent-gone-rogue who offers to help the FBI capture a sordid assortment of the worst criminals out there.  His only catch is the stipulation that a newly-minted female agent, played by Megan Boone (Law & Order: Los Angeles, Blue Bloods, My Bloody Valentine), be assigned solely to work with him.  Although NBC isn't trying very hard to divorce itself from Silence of the Lambs weirdness comparisons -- e.g., when they meet, Spader is trussed up and emerges from a plastic cube -- NBC already has their actual Hannibal series coming back next year.  That series was a critical success despite its disturbing core of grotesque violence probably better suited to cable. The Blacklist with its emphasis not on serial killers but instead terrorists and more refined evildoers seems not be heading into the quite same blood-soaked territory (we hope).

Co-starring with Spader and Boone are Harry Lennix (Man of Steel, Dollhouse, Emily Owens, M.D., Little Britain USA as the President, 24, the last two Matrix movies) and Diego Klattenhoff (Homeland, Pacific Rim, After Earth, Mercy, Men in Trees) as FBI colleagues and Ryan Eggold (90210, Entourage, Daybreak, Dirt) as Boone's onscreen husband, a relationship which is secret. Buzz is very positive; everybody loves Spader in anything these days, and the suspense is genuine in this series that could definitely become a new crime procedural hit.  The Blacklist airs -- naturally, using TV logic -- directly opposite CBS' own super-suspenseful new drama Hostages.  If you prefer your leads on the deliciously hammy side, go for Spader who never disappoints.  The Blacklist airs on NBC at 10pm beginning Monday, September 23rd.

Wednesday nights at 10pm NBC premieres a reboot of the network's long-running -- 1967 to 1975 -- police series starring Raymond Burr as a San Francisco police detective with a wheelchair.  A novel concept at that time, this time the action's in New York and we have the appealing Blair Underwood (The Event, L.A. Law, The New Adventures of Old Christine, Dirty Sexy Money, In Treatment, Fatherhood, Sex and the City) filling Burr's formidable shoes.  Ironside co-stars Brent Sexton (Justified, The Killing, Life, Deadwood, Surface) as Ironside's friend and fellow detective, Pablo Schreiber (Orange is the New Black, The Wire, Weeds, A Gifted Man, Lights Out, Dirt) as a tough cop whose home life is key for him, Spencer Grammer (Kelsey Grammer's daughter, As The World Turns, Greek) as a female police officer who thrives on the thrills, Neal Bledsoe (Smash, Law & Order: SVU, Ugly Betty) as a rebellious cop who comes from money, and Kenneth Choi (Sons of Anarchy, Glee, 24, Red Dawn) as Ironside's intense captain with whom he doesn't always see eye to eye.  Buzz on Ironside isn't too positive; Underwood is a draw but the police action feels tired, a little too by-the-book.  Of course there's some built-in pop culture familiarity, but anybody who saw Ironside the first time around is certainly not the demo NBC is probably looking for.  Ironside airs on NBC at 10pm beginning Wednesday, October 2nd.

Thursday nights bring three new comedies to follow the returning Parks and Recreation.  First up at 8:30pm is Welcome to the Family, the story of two very different families who are thrown together when their teenage children find out they are expecting a baby.  This is one of those plots that is only possible in a world where nobody's heard of birth control or abortion; in other words, a world much like a lot of America, unfortunately.  Basically we have the culture clash of a white family getting to know the Latino parents of their daughter's boyfriend.  Mike O'Malley (Glee, Justified, My Name is Earl, Yes, Dear, Parenthood) and Ricardo Chavira (Desperate Housewives, Six Feet Under, Monk, Burn Notice) are the fathers, Mary McCormack (In Plain Sight, The West Wing, ER, Murder One, K Street) and Justina Machado (Six Feet Under, Private Practice, Desperate Housewives, Three Rivers, Burn Notice) are the mothers.  Ella Rae Peck (Gossip Girl, Deception) and Joseph Haro (Awkward, Glee, Broadway musicals) are the young couple.  Welcome to the Family has enough elements to make it the 21st century version of that very old play Abie's Irish Rose -- out of place girl marries into family with different culture -- which probably means it's not offensive but also unlikely to go anywhere you can't see coming. Buzz is good cast, tired premise, despite the attempt to update it into the most likely cross-cultural pollination we'll be seeing during our lifetimes.  Welcome to the Family airs on NBC at 8:30pm beginning Thursday, October 3rd.

Thursdays at 9pm sees the premiere of Sean Saves the World starring the multi-talented Sean Hayes (Will & Grace, Smash, Up All Night, an outstanding Larry Fine in The Three Stooges, a great Jerry Lewis in the Martin and Lewis TV movie, and theater such as Damn Yankees and Promises, Promises).  Hayes plays a divorced gay father whose fourteen-year-old daughter moves in with him.  Newcomer Samantha Isler (child reporter on Today) plays his daughter, veteran Linda Lavin (Alice, more theater than you can imagine) is Sean's opinionated mother, Thomas Lennon (Reno 911, The State, The Dark Knight Rises) is his pompous boss, Echo Kellum (quite amusing on last season's Ben and Kate) is his co-worker, and Megan Hilty (Smash, The Closer, lots of theater and voice work) is Sean's best friend.  Everybody knows that Sean Hayes is indefatigable and will wring any possible laughs out of the material given to him. This show will rise or fall on his funny bones so let's hope he's got what it takes to elevate this one past the usual and predictable domestic sitcom.  I think I like everything about it except the fatherhood part; that cast is killer, isn't it?  It will be competing directly against CBS' The Crazy Ones with Robin Williams; we'll have to wait to find out which of these gifted comic actors will be able to go the distance.  Sean Saves the World airs on NBC at 9pm beginning Thursday, October 3rd.

Thursdays at 9:30pm is the home of the new The Michael J. Fox Show, one of the season's most anticipated new series because of its titular star.  If everybody loves James Spader for his slightly creepy quality, they love Michael J. Fox for just the opposite reason.  He's earned his place as one of the most beloved celebrities thanks to his genuine nice guy personality, unending talent and the matter-of-fact way he's conducted his life with Parkinson's Disease.  Show business loves Michael J. Fox, too, with his string of hits dating back to the early '80s and his breakout role in Family Ties (and for NBC, too), then movie stardom with titles like Back to the Future, Teen Wolf and Doc Hollywood, then back to TV for successful series Spin City in the mid-'90s and more recent work in Boston Legal, Rescue Me, and The Good Wife.

His new sitcom plays off his real-life circumstances; Mike Henry is a big-time TV journalist who was diagnosed with Parkinson's, took some years off (which Fox never did), and now is coming back into the business.  His family is all for the change -- too much dad time -- and how MJF deals with being in the spotlight again is what we can look forward to enjoying.  Betsy Brandt (Breaking Bad, Private Practice) is Mike's wife, Conor Romero (Sleeping With the Fishes) is his older son, Juliette Goglia (Ugly Betty, Joan of Arcadia (remember the little girl who played God?), Desperate Housewives, Vanished) is his teen daughter, Jack Gore is his younger son, and Wendell Pierce (The Wire, Treme) and Ana Nogueria (Blue Bloods, The Battery's Down) are workplace buddies.  Charles Grodin and Candice Bergen have also been cast as Fox's parents in at least one episode.  Given a full-season order before it even began and picked up without a pilot solely on the strength of Michael J. Fox, The Michael J. Fox Show has a lot going for it in goodwill but it will take really good comedy to keep audiences watching. Everybody wants this one to work.  The Michael J. Fox Show premieres on NBC at 9pm for a two episode intro on Thursday, September 26th but moves into its regular 9:30pm slot beginning Thursday, October 3rd.

Fridays brings another supernatural series to NBC's Friday fright night to act as companion to the successful Grimm which enters its third season this year. This time it's a Victorian England-set rendition of the classic vampire tale Dracula, a British co-production (10 episodes only) with some exciting provenance behind the camera (talent from HBO's Carnivale, Downton Abbey, The Tudors) and the equally exciting Jonathan Rhys Meyers (The Tudors, Velvet Goldmine, Gormenghast, Bend it Like Beckham, Elvis, Mission Impossible III) in the title role.  Dracula is in London looking for revenge and pretending to be an American businessman.  All the familiar characters are there and more, played by a mostly British cast:  Oliver Jackson-Cohen (Lark Rise to Candleford, William and Kate: Before Happily Ever After playing Prince William, Ken Follett's World Without End, Mr. Selfridge) is Jonathan Harker, Australian actress Jessica De Gouw (The Arrow) is Mina, Thomas Kretschmann (The River, King Kong, Downfall, Transsiberian) is Van Helsing, Katie McGrath (Merlin, The Tudors) is Lucy Westenra, Nonso Anozie (Games of Thrones, The Grey, Conan the Barbarian,) is Renfield, Victoria Smurfit (Ballykissangel) is Lady Jane, Ben Miles (the original British series Coupling, The Forsyte Saga, Lark Rise to Candleford) is Mr. Browning, and Robert Bathhurst (Downton Abbey, The Pillars of the Earth, Cold Feet) is Lord Davenport.  This one looks plenty good -- maybe a little Steampunky, hopefully -- but it will have to accomplish more than that to keep Grimm watchers happy.  They like thrills, chills and some personality, too; let's hope this Dracula isn't too refined for its own good.  Dracula premieres on NBC at 10pm on Friday, October 25th.

NBC has several other series on tap for mid-season and we'll cover them at that time.  There are real opportunities for NBC to regain some of the strength that they've lost over the last several years.  We have the highest hopes for The Blacklist and The Michael J. Fox Show, but as we know there are few safe harbors anymore on TV.  We'll see what transpires over the next few weeks as the early ratings offer either hope or something less to these contenders.

Next up, the CW!