Words by John

Musings, Media Commentary and Original Fiction


by John Leasure


I am old enough to remember the quiet TV celebrations of Guy Lombardo from the ballroom at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York and a grainy black and white image of the Ball Drop in Times Square. Sometimes the Tonight Show – with either Jack Paar or Carson – also had the public Ball Drop depending if the Tonight Show went live that night. As Carson became more successful, the less holiday shows there were. My mother was the New Years baby in Jackson County for the year 1926 so New Years Eve celebrations, regardless of where we were, became a birthday party at midnight. Parties at our house or elsewhere were anything but quiet though.

Lombardo's music was unique among big bands it seems to me in retrospect. It was not exactly the swing sounds of Miller or the Dorseys, in fact a radio DJ friend often termed it as he played the music on WNXT FM as “music to die by.” So when I say quiet I mean quiet, maybe elegant or high- toned, (it was the Waldorf after all) certainly nothing emotional or fun as I remember as a kid.

It started on radio for Lombardo and His Royal Canadians in 1929. And on December 31, 1956, the Lombardo band did their first New Year's TV special on CBS; the program (and Lombardo's 20 subsequent New Year's Eve TV shows) included a live segment from Times Square heralding the arrival of the New Year. While CBS carried most of the Lombardo New Year's specials, there were a few years in the late 1960s and early 1970s when the special was syndicated live to individual TV stations instead of being broadcast on a network. There was change ahead for News Years Eve and a middle-aged teenager would lead them.

New Year's Rockin' Eve was created by American Bandstand veteran Dick Clark who conceived the show as a younger-skewing competitor to Guy Lombardo's long-running New Year's Eve broadcast on CBS. The first two editions, which were hosted by Three Dog Night and George Carlin respectively, featuring the Dick Clark persona assuming the role of Times Square reporter, were broadcast for NBC in 1973 and 1974. In 1974-75, the program moved to its current home of ABC, and Clark assumed the role of host until his stoke in 2004 limited his involvement. Another middle-aged teenager stepped into the role in the person of Ryan Secrest and assumed the lead role.

The Dick Clark production utilizes both live and taped segments and includes celebrations from the West Coast, sometimes in London and other places. Due the three-hour time difference the West Coast celebrations help to bridge that gap in terms of ratings. After Guy Lombardo's death in 1977, his absence from an attempt to continue with his son leading the band, led to a decline in viewership, allowing Dick Clark and company to overtake the Royal Canadians in viewership in only its fifth year. New Year's Rockin' Eve would become the most watched New Year's celebration – continuing even to this day – of all time.

ABC has played with the format and expanded and contracted it as needed – from about a 24-hour period during the Millennium celebration to prime time specials. It now starts somewhere in prime time in most markets and becomes the now classic format following local stations late-night news at 11:35 pm. Fragmenting audiences with cable news (both CNN, Fox News as well as Fox TV Network) having televised celebrations of their own (I offer prayers to Anderson Cooper every year he has to co-host with Kathy Griffin) have somewhat diminished the ratings but it remains strong among traditional broadcast networks.

Personally whatever TV show there is I have usually suffered through to get to watch the Ball Drop in Times Square. To me that is what makes a successful New Year's celebration. The event was a successor to a series of New Year's Eve fireworks displays held by the New York Times at their building to promote its status as the new headquarters of “the newspaper of record.” December 31, 1907, to welcome 1908, was the first and has been held annually since, except in 1942 and 1943 in observance of WWII blackouts. Through the years the ball's design has changed as has the technology behind the mechanics of dropping the ball. But it remains a long held and often imitated tradition. However there is nothing that has diminished the luster of the now Chrystal-encrusted lighted ball or millions that are drawn – despite many years of terrible weather – from the Times Square location.

In recent years I have spent a great evening of live music and comradeship at Port City Cafe Pub and Cafe. I know that Noggins, Brew Pub and the Holiday Inn all have live music and celebrations of varying costs and durations. Live music with friends and family seems an appropriate way to herald a new year and to send the old one packing. Personally I will be happy to see the backside of 2016 and hope the future 2017 is a brighter and easier time. Certainly there will be change this coming year with time – and history – telling us if that change is for the better.




I don't know of a writer or some kind of creative person who hasn't been asked, “Where do you get your ideas?” There are several high-tone and even glib answers most use. Let me be truthful: I don't know. They just come. Sometimes fully developed. Sometimes just a line of copy or dialogue. But when needed they just arrive.

No one is more surprised than I am when I sit down at the computer and open my word processing program and start typing. Then I actually read what I've written and it sounds surprisingly good even. I write this column on Sunday afternoon to evening for a Monday morning deadline. Sometimes when I sit down at the computer I have no idea what to write about. When this was a purely movie review column it was of course easier. But life happens and this changed to a media column. The Sunday writing means I can utilize last minute news to be more current when published and distributed for a Thursday delivery.

But this particular column started as a conversation with a friend in Europe on Skype and he asked, after looking at the columns on Facebook and my own website (wordsbyjohn.com), how did I do what I do? I heard the headline in my head: Where Do The Words Come From? So I began to think about creativity in general and I looked to other writings from other artists and it pretty well all coalesced in my mind. I turned over opinion and fact over and over in my mind. I argued with myself as I traveled to Coffee@The Lofts where I meet friends and where I think.

By Thursday of last week, I thought I had a firm outline of what I wanted to discuss about creativity. By Sunday when I sit down to write this, so far I haven't touched that outline. But where does the concept of creativity come from? Has mankind always been creative or at least acknowledged the unique aspects of creativity? In a word? No.

Most ancient cultures such as Ancient Greece, China and India lacked the concept of creativity, seeing art as discovery, not creation (and I guess we can quibble over the nuances). Plato did not believe in art as a form of creation and stated, "Will we say, of a painter, that he makes something?", he answers, "Certainly not, he merely imitates.” It is thought that the notion of "creativity" originated in Western culture through Christianity, as a matter of divine inspiration. A concept similar to that of Christianity existed in the Greek culture. Muses, for instance, were seen as mediating inspiration from the Gods. Romans and Greeks invoked the concept of an external creative "daemon" (Greek) or "genius" (Latin), linked to the sacred or the divine. However, none of these views are similar to the modern concept of creativity, and the individual was not seen as the cause of creation until the Renaissance. It was during the Renaissance that creativity was first seen, not as a conduit for the divine, but from the abilities of “great men.”

Do I see what I do as a conduit of inspiration from God? Not really. And no, I don't consider myself a great man. Just a person who MUST write. I have been telling stories of some kind or another all my life. In fact Mrs McCall, my first grade teacher at Highland Elementary, told my mother in their first conference she had never seen a child able to tell a story (and I'm assuming she meant not necessarily factual) as effectively as I did. She said I knew exactly when people would laugh and when they wouldn't. My parents gave me a small reel to reel tape recorder and I was told to tell my stories there and not in class. When I learned to write I wrote my stories out in the now ancient art of cursive handwriting. My Aunt Clara's portable Royal typewriter was next.

But there is the feeling I must write something every day and have in one form or another since I learned to write. I look at artists like Charlie Hansen who see Portsmouth and his world from a unique and utterly entertaining perspective. His style has evolved over time but when you see a painting by you know immediately it is from him. Another artist friend from Cartegena, Colombia also sees his world through the eyes of a painter. His name is Alvaro Santos (his Facebook page where you can see his art is under the name Alvaro Jose Arroyo) and he paints the women in his neighborhood, the buildings around him in an explosion of color and passion that comes through the canvas.

He has paintings of the colorful parrots, beautiful fish under the sea and all aspects of his life. He supports his family through his paintings and they are a direct expression of who he is and where he lives but through his eyes – his unique perspective. Just as Charlie Hansen shares his view of the world. Just as I share my view of the world through words. Just as Steve Free has shared with the world his idea and view of this area through music (his Christmas music will be used in a special broadcast on Christmas from Northern Ireland).

Creativity is powerful and when it is tapped it must be released through some kind of expression. God given, Muses driven? I don't know. All I know is that I write because I must. I want to inform but I also want to entertain. Will I write something grand or provocative or seminal? Most likely not. But I will have contributed to the conversation and I will have released the “deamons” inside me.

I know I get the gift of storytelling from my grandmother, Hazel Leasure. She could spin a yarn better than anyone with her flashing eyes and ready laugh. When I write I think of her. Where do the words come from? I still don't know and may not want to know for fear of over thinking the process and the words just disappearing. Embrace your own creativity in whatever area you excel and enjoy the rush that release gives you.



            I have heard almost all my life about the loss of our “traditional Christmas” in this culture. What IS a traditional Christmas anyway? Certainly my traditions are different from yours so are we truly calling this loss of tradition a cultural thing? If so they've been bemoaning the fact of a loss of traditions since about the 17th Century in England.

            After the re-establishment of the royal house in England, following their Civil War, the writers of the time talked about the good old days of Christmas past. The Puritans had outlawed any observance of the holiday because they saw the Christmas holiday as a Papist (meaning Roman Catholic) use of a pagan tradition. The character of Father Christmas appeared in England somewhere in the 15th Century as a symbol of adult merriment and drinking. In the 15th Century and before there was a Winter holiday called Yule and Father Christmas rode a yule goat through villages. He did not become a gift-giving, child-focused symbol until it was merged with some European traditions as well as the United States version of Santa Claus.

            It was Dickens' A Christmas Carol in the Victorian Age that tilted the Father Christmas character as benevolent and child centric. Historians credit our modern version of Christmas as a product of Dickens and Scrooge's restoration complete with decorated tree (a German tradition) family dinner and gifts as well as Father Christmas. Although Father Christmas was dressed in a long green robe keeping in time to his 15th Century image. His image would be dressed in a long flowing red robe later.

            In fact the idea of a red-suited gift-giver was a product of Thomas Nash's illustrations of Clement Clarke Moore's A Visit from Saint Nick (or Twas the Night Before Christmas) and not an advertising gimmick from Coca Cola as some would have you believe. And even the idea of Santa Claus comes from a virtual melting pot of different European and Middle Eastern traditions of a gift-giving saint, angel or Norse God. In truly a USA tradition, we have appropriated many cultural ideas, merged them and then sent that image out and have all but replaced all other traditions around the worldwith our Santa Claus. In fact in the UK the names of Father Christmas and Santa Claus are interchangeable now.

            Is Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer a tradition? He was a marketing scheme from Chicago-based store Montgomery Ward who commissioned the writing of the original story in 1939(by Robert L May) and song in 1948 (written by May's brother-in-law Johnny Marks). Frosty the Snowman (not actually a Christmas story at first) was created as a follow-up for Gene Autry's big Rudolph recording. Even the Elf-On-The_Shelf is a recent addition to Christmas by a mother/daughter marketing team to sell dolls, books, cards and ornaments. So what is traditional?

            Perhaps you would say the Nativity is traditional. But Biblical scholars are not sure of the time of year that the need for Mary and Joseph arose to travel to Bethlehem for the census (or at least they disagree) and the time in December (for us and January for Eastern Orthodox churches) is indeed an off-shoot of the Winter Solstice celebrations through many cultures. And according to Mark Chepp from the Southern Ohio Museum those images have changed and matured since the 5th Century in his annual History of the Nativity Image talk at the museum.

            The traditions of my family changed as people died and children were born and grew and we all became older (but certainly no wiser). I do remember them fondly but traditions change over time and they have the impetus of either personal change or cultural change. Certainly we are in the midst of a cultural discussion of how to display Christmas in the public square. As we become an even bigger melting pot our “traditional” images may offend others. Certainly there are other cultures and their celebrations which sometimes correspond such as Hanukkah (or a more traditional spelling of Chanukah) and the 20th Century addition of Kwanza (and don't even go to Festivus, please).

            Growing up, the owner of Atlas Fashions in downtown Portsmouth was Jewish and their daughter a good friend of my sister. Mr. Atlas would love to tell the old, old joke that on Christmas Eve he took the family to stand in front of the empty store window and sing, “What A Friend We Have in Jesus.” It should be noted that when the grandmother went back to St. Louis after Hanukkah, they put up a Christmas tree whenever possible.

            Still the idea of Christmas as a time of well wishes, helping others in need and a time of peace hopefully will endure even the 21st Century.



            In 2011 ABC said good bye to two of television's most venerable soap operas, All My Children (41 years on the air) and One Life to Live (44 years on ABC), both created by the late Agnes Nixon, and both broadening the boundaries of stories daytime television could tell. Fans protested but the network said the shows were too expensive for the ratings return as the audience for daytime had changed. A former ABC executive had a production company called Prospect Park and licensed the two shows for continuation on “the Internet” rather than broadcast.

            And therein lies the start of what became a more convoluted plot than in either show's history between Prospect Park and ABC. The network had given Prospect Park a set of deadlines to meet in order to keep the license and the rights to the show. Prospect Park tried selling the shows to cable and failed. They alternately announced deals with Hulu (a streaming service on the Internet and on streaming devices like ROKU) and iTunes. Were they; won't they happened for months as Prospect Park was inept in making deals with the production unions and actors.

            Finally they went into production with both shows being a half-hour format and many of the key actors returning to their roles along with new and recast actors. The shows were recorded in Connecticut and debuted with much fanfare. Fans and soap professionals hoped this would be a format and way to continue to produce American soap operas without benefit of a broadcast network. Artistically the shows were well written and well produced. From April 2013 to September 2013 it was a grand experiment that unfortunately failed on the business side. Prospect Park's inept negotiations with the IATSE union (the production crew's union) forced an early hiatus in production of both shows and they never returned.

            ABC grafted popular One Life to Live characters onto the remaining General Hospital not allowing Prospect Park to use them. Prospect Park sued ABC in 2014 for millions of dollars saying their actions prevented them from mounting the two shows successfully. ABC counter-sued and asked for the licensing agreement to be terminated since Prospect Park didn't produce the number of episodes within the designated time frame to keep the license. Finally on December 1, 2016 a judge dismissed Prospect Park's suit and effectively returned All My Children and One Life to Live back to ABC's control. So what now?

            Its been five years since ABC replaced All My Children with a cooking talk show hybrid called The Chew. The network returned an hour of daytime to affiliates in what had been One Life to Live's time slot effectively leaving a network void between The Chew and General Hospital which had remained at its usual 3:00 pm time slot. Five years ago it seemed a good plan. Good Morning America and The View were holding the morning time block very well and if they could save money on that hour. So why not?

            In TV five years is a long time and Good Morning America is not leading the pack against a resurgent and a huge four-hour Today Show. Also The View is struggling with hosts coming and going and fighting with the network between producers. However, The Chew has a solid rating if not always a winning one. NBC has seen steady growth in ratings for their lone soap left on the schedule, Days of Our Lives, without the ABC soaps. It is usually seen in the hour time block now returned to ABC affiliates and succeeding against a myriad of syndicated game shows and talk shows. Days of Our Lives was recently given a two-year renewal as a show of confidence after celebrating 50 years on the air.

            Stalwarts of daytime have failed with their won syndicated shows like Katie Couric, Jane Pauley and Meredith Vieira. Wendy Williams still seems to be holding her own as is Ellen and for some reason Dr. Phil. Harry Connick Jr. is the new kid in town and struggling I am told in the ratings with Live with Kelly in flux as well.

            There is speculation (and I say this is wild speculation) that ABC is considering half-hour versions of All My Children and One Life to Live in that time period between The Chew and General Hospital. It is said they are seeing CBS maintain their historic lead in daytime with soaps, (The Young and the Restless and The Bold and the Beautiful) after canceling their own classics of As the World Turns and Guiding Light and their View-clone The Talk. Word has ABC considering a move to shore up their daytime block and bolster a sagging General Hospital.

            If such a move is indeed in the works it could not happen before Fall of 2017 or even 2018 given contracts already in place by affiliates. Although affiliates could be behind the rumors and pushing the network given the collapse of the syndicated talk show market and a desire not to have to buy programming themselves. For a Fall 2017 launch of both shows casting, writing and pre-production would have to be around Spring or early Summer 2017.

            People smarter than me say this is a good move and could happen. I am not so sure although it would be a shot in the arm for the creative community in New York if both shows were produced there. All My Children had moved to LA for its last year without Susan Lucci's Erika Kane. There is no doubt ABC is struggling corporately in both daytime and prime time and they fought harder against Prospect Park, demanding the return of the properties, than expected. I guess we will just have to tune in tomorrow and tomorrow to find out.




            I was surprised to be told that Marvel/Disney release Doctor Strange had left the local market prior to the Thanksgiving weekend. With a release date of November 4th it seemed a fast turn around for what was supposed to be blockbuster. So what was the story here? Was Doctor Strange not as successful as other Marvel movies or was something else at play?

            When looking at pure box office numbers from worldwide markets, Doctor Strange has reached the plus $600 million since its release. It got there faster than any other Marvel release to date including the first Captain America, Thor and even the first Iron Man release. In fact none of those films reached $600 million during initial release. And the good Doctor still has to open in Japan on January 27, 2017. In short, this film, about a third tier Marvel comic book character, has out done every Marvel release to date. This year alone Disney has earned $6 billion at the world's box office and they still have Rogue One: A Star Wars Story to be released on December 16, 2016.

            Adding to Disney's coffers is the animated release of Moana which topped the extended holiday box office of $81.1 million and will continue to be relevant throughout the season due to the real lack of family entertainment with the holiday releases of more adult-centric fare. The analysts put Rogue One in the adult category but the Star Wars connection will draw a family and younger audience as well. Also the Harry Potter-prequel, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (which is nearing a $500 million worldwide box office) is still strong and while aimed at an older skewing audience it too benefits from a more all-ages fan base.

            So why would Doctor Strange be moved out of this market? Simply put theater space and number of releases coming in before the end of the year. Mixed in with the potential box office blockbuster (hoped for by the studios) are the smaller films needing screen exposure to qualify for the 2017 Oscars. Doctor Strange is still in Ashland, Huntington and Chillicothe but here there are limited screens and more incoming films. We should be glad that the owners of the local theater do not hold on to movies when new ones are released. We have a good track record of having at least the block busters in a timely manner. However the realities of smaller local market mean a faster in and out.

            I was talking the local manager during the Summer release of Tarzan. They were still doing excellent business when the movie was moved out and she was not looking forward to people coming in and finding it gone. But her hands are tied to contracts with distributors. My advice is if you want to see a particular movie see it within the first week or ten days to be sure you can see it locally. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story should last longer than Doctor Strange did but probably not much past Christmas Day here. There will be Christmas Day releases as well fighting for screen space.

            And certainly one fight for space and Oscar is Fences set to be released on Christmas Day based on August Wilson's 1985 Broadway play. Will it play here? Possibly not until a wider release. It won't be a blockbuster but will garner the Oscar buzz Paramount Pictures and even Denzel Washington needs right now. Washington hasn't really headlined a big release in a while and Paramount, in comparison to Disney and Warners, could use the bump as well around time for boards to extend CEO contracts. But it is the kind of film distributors will play with for screen space.

            One local screening that some may want to see is Hacksaw Ridge. It most likely won't be here much longer and its Oscar buzz for director Mel Gibson and star Andrew Garfied has been a surprise for some. It is the “based on a true story” of a contentious objector and his heroism in time of war. Trolls should also last through Christmas again due to a limit on family entertainment. Thriller Allied is receiving good reviews and word of mouth and likely to be here as well. Bad Santa 2 has tanked across the country and may disappear before the real Santa leaves on December 24th.

            So what is the take-away here? We live in a marginal market and even huge movies will move in and out faster than we might expect. With movies like Fantastic Beasts and Moana also showing in 3D and using up sometimes two and three theater screens, even an eight screen theater gets tight for space. And truly there are some movies that need to be seen on the big screen. I may have to drag myself out to see Fantastic Beasts and Rogue One but I'll have to do it sooner than later.




            Okay its Thanksgiving and what does that mean? Christmas shopping of course. But really you can do this from the privacy of your own home and in your pajamas after you sleep in, not standing in line. Amazon.com offers a fine selection of DVD and Blu Ray Boxed sets of movies and TV shows anywhere. And on Amazon the prices are the best we found anywhere complete with free two-day shipping if you are a Prime member and even on selected sets you can get a shipping deal. They even will wrap!

            This will be kind of an eclectic selection since it really is dominated by things I like. Just preparing you for a “What is he thinking?” moment. So where to start? Two of my favorite TV shows are now available in complete sets. Although neither is a first-time set both are great collections of classic TV shows. So we start with my favorite all-time: I Love Series: The Complete Series – all 194 episodes lovingly restored and in glorious black and white. Amazon calls it the “whole MacGillicuddy” and if you know the reference you want this collection. It contains uncut episodes with sometimes as much as three minutes of video cut for syndication. It retails for about $80.oo elsewhere and $44.86 at Amazon.

            On Friday, November 25th Netflix drops the first of four movie length follow-ups to the Gilmore Girls. Yes, its currently running on Netflix too but for how long? And if you are considering buying DVDs of TV shows you already know how special this series was/is. The writing is amazing and the acting created a time and place like few other TV shows. Here are Season One through Seven on 42 discs for $89.95. Another series on the opposite side of the scale that had solid writing and acting was The West Wing. Even with my politics solidly in a different place this was an amazing series in terms of looking into the White House. Did we know the acronyms POTUS or SCOTUS before? Blu Ray set is $118.99 but the very good DVD set is $64.99.

            For a box of laughs how about the Mel Brooks Collection featuring all of his movie releases starting with Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein and ending with the Alfred Hitchcock spoof- High Anxiety. Broad, not-sophisticated comedy that today is also amazingly non-PC (well, at the time too) but belly laughs are had throughout all these films. Brooks was/is an amazing writer that has transcended early TV to stand-up to TV (he created Get Smart) to film and finally Broadway. These are funny films that leer a bit in places but by today's standards are pretty tame. For once the Bu Ray is a better deal at $24.99 and the DVD set at $25.17.

            Okay this one is borderline depending on your love for the show. The Golden Girls: The Complete Series is now available. There's been a media push on this show recently (have you seen the action figures of the Girls) so this one is pricey. First few seasons are masterful in terms of writing and acting with latter season pretty uneven. However, it is a fine series but I'm waiting for a price reduction here at $119.93.Another borderline one for me but it had its moments is Monk: The Complete Series. A series about a totally dysfunctional human being on all levels left me screaming at the TV mostly. The writing was never above Murder, She Wrote standards (and I mean it followed a formula to the last period) but Tony Shalhoub won Emmys for this show and rightfully so indeed. He was the reason to watch Monk.

            And this one should cause a few cocked heads in wonder. But Planet of the Apes Legacy Collection has all five original movies – starting with the Charlton Heston classic – is one I'd love to have. No CGI just solid actors in full latex monkey suits and each of them gave these characters full-bodied performances. RoddyMcDowall is the glue that holds this set together with amazing performances in all the movies. I prefer these to the remakes because there is passion in these performances that no CGI character can convey. And trust me the reboots are beautiful to look at but sterile.

            These are just a few I think worthy of considering for gift giving (or keeping for yourself) during this season of shopping. Amazon is the best place for prices but if you want to handle and look directly at, I'll be honest you may have to go to Wal-Mart or Target. But please don't go Friday. Save yourself that at least. I hope you have/had a great Thanksgiving and we will look in December at movies as gifts as well.



            The Crown, an original ten-part/ten-hour series, dropped in all its ten-episode first season glory on Netflix recently. It purports to cover the first years of the reign of Queen Elizabeth II – or the current Queen of England if you will – and while certainly conversations are fictional it is being touted by royal historians as amazingly accurate. It is also being touted as Netflix's most expensive series ($100 million for the ten episodes) and perhaps it most ambitious.

            It is supposed to be ten episodes each season over six seasons encompassing her sixty-year reign (with Netflix agreeing initially to the first two seasons with options for renewal).  I've watched the first few episodes (I do not binge watch) and it is a lavish and luscious production with all of its production money on screen and invested in a great cast of actors. It is not a production with showy action sequences and should appeal to the Downton Abbey crowd.

            At the head of the cast is Claire Foy as Elizabeth (known for a few films and most recently TV series Wolf Hall), Matt Smith as Prince Phillip (late of Doctor Who), John Lithgow as Churchill (unexpected casting of well-known American actor) and Jared Harris as King George VI (seen in Lincoln and the reboot Man From UNCLE) stand out in the first few episodes. Reviews say that Vanessa Kirby as Princess Margaret is equally as stunning in later episodes. There are no weakness in any of the supporting cast as the story moves from event to event.

            The series is the brainchild of writer/producer Peter Morgan who is in familiar territory here as he wrote the film The Queen (Helen Mirren as Elizabeth II won the Oscar) and the play The Audience which was about the meetings between Elizabeth II and her prime ministers through the years of her reign. It was while doing The Audience he realized this could be effective television. Netflix agreed and equally so do I. His movie The Queen is an amazing imagining of what she went through during the death of Princess Diana. Completely conjecture but even then Prime Minister Tony Blair has said eerily close. So why not a young Elizabeth?

            Morgan had and has no inside connection to the Royal Family and turned down offers from Buckingham Palace (they were openly worried at the announcement and tried to control some of what was told) and relied on public documents and memoirs of the principles. It is a masterful piece of writing and execution as an entertainment piece in that we feel we know, somewhat, this queen and her prince we have seen steadily for 60 years but this demonstrates we know very little of the real woman and her husband. While the historical parts are realized in all their glory (the royal wedding is riveting for reasons I won't reveal here) as well as the politics (Churchill upstaging the then current prime minister with his calculated entrance to the church) it is the part we know as fictional – the conversations in private – that seem the most real.

            The first two episodes were directed by Stephen Daldry who is also an executive producer and helped Morgan shepherd this production from concept to reality. He also set the standard for the other directors to follow over the ten episodes. Given the writing, the acting and the expert camera and production design the whole season flows as one exquisite film. It is both the glory and the frustration of Netflix, as they help to reshape how series are written, produced and distributed, that it is all there for you at once. But ten-hours is a lot to consume at one time or even over a weekend. Still it is a delicious frustration as we are being brought great productions to our flat-screens at home.

            If Foy, Smith and Lithgow don't win at the very least Golden Globes (as well as SAG Awards and a load of Emmys), there is some sort of backlash against the deep pockets of Netflix. With Game of Thrones winding down, Netflix has positioned itself to be a leader in prestigious television drama. With their wins with House of Cards and Orange is the New Black in the awards category,  The Crown should also be a real awards player for performances in many technical categories.

            The Crown is a 2016 television production of Left Bank Pictures and Sony Pictures Television and distributed by Netflix worldwide. Netflix is a paid Internet streaming service available on computers, streaming devices for TV, phones (both iOS and Android) and tablets. One subscription goes across all platforms. Interestingly enough the first two episodes were released theatrically in the United Kingdom before being dropped onto the UK Netflix. It went worldwide on the streaming service on November 4, 2016. Production has begun on Season Two for release next year. Given the critical reception I wouldn't be surprised if we see all six seasons. I certainly hope so.



Last year I told you about a Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism report outlining the false accusations in a cover story from Rolling Stone Magazine (published in 2014) and reporter Sabrina Erderly about a fraternity rape on the campus of the University of Virginia. Problem was there was no rape and the “victim” lied to police and the reporter. The original story smeared several young men at a fraternity, the University of Virginia and implied Nicole Eramo, an associate dean at the university, tried to persuade the victim not to report the alleged rape. Last week Eramo won a judgment against Rolling Stone, its publisher Wenner Media and the reporter in court.

Eramo had filed a $7.5 million defamation suit last year against Rolling Stone and Erderly. In fighting such cases against a journalist and publication it is an uphill battle. It must be proven that the story was known to be false and was published “with actual malice.” It is the malice part that makes it difficult to impossible. Celebrities are particularly vulnerable to false stories but because they are “in the public eye voluntarily” it places the bar high to show malice. Carol Burnett was the first, and one of a very few, entertainers to win a judgment against The Nation Inquirer in the last century.

Still the jury found for the associate dean and ascribed malice to the actions of the publisher and the reporter. Part of that decision had to be derived from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism report – ironically requested by publisher Jann Wenner – which was devastating in their condemnation of the magazine and the reporter calling it “a journalistic failure.” According to the report “the magazine set aside or rationalized as unnecessary essential practices of reporting” that would have made this article avoidable.

It was reported that Erderly had been at several other campuses around the country trying to find a fraternity rape story. The University of Virginia's alleged victim’s story fit into her bias and Rolling Stone needed to be seen as on the cutting edge. The Columbia report says that simple basic reporting skills – like speaking to the friends the alleged victim said she told about the rape – would have brought up these discrepancies earlier in the investigating process. The magazine went on with the story even when the local police could find no evidence of a crime.

Eramo says she is vindicated but the story when originally published depicting her as callous and dismissive devastated “her life's work of helping sexual assault victims.” Rolling Stone issued a statement apologizing to the associate dean but went on to try and justify it's practices by saying the issues in the story of campus rape were complicated and worthy of investigation. They fail to understand the story and its aftermath undermined the entire subject matter for now. Certainly the judgment should cause other media outlets to pause before going forward with such a story.

The 10-member jury heard the case over 16 days from October 17th reaching a verdict last Friday after deliberating for three days. Another hearing will determine what the actual damages will amount to but usually are less than the amount sought. It should send a message to other media outlets that juries are wiling to smack a large media company over issues reported by them.

The online entertainment magazine Gawker was slammed with a huge judgment in the Hulk Hogan sex tape trial causing them to file for bankruptcy and go out of business. The journalism establishment dismissed this judgment as being about a lewd subject and funded by another person wanting to bring down the online magazine. They cannot ignore this one brought by a regular person seeking to establish the truth about herself and her profession.

In last year's article it was reported that Rolling Stone Managing Editor Will Dana was quoted in various news reports as saying,”It's not like we need to overhaul our process, and I don't think we need to necessarily institute a lot of new ways of doing things.” And publisher Jann Wenner said no one needs to be fired over this. According to Rolling Stone's attorney at the trial, the reporter was indeed fired from the magazine and her reputation as a reporter ruined. “She hasn't written so much as a classified since then,” said the attorney. But the magazine and its publisher Jann Wenner go on as they have for years. This is not the first time they have dealt in “questionable journalism” but it is the first time they have been fined and found guilty for their transgressions. Certainly this one article, and the atmosphere at the magazine that fostered the publication of the story, is the most serious.

In a Washington Post article as a side bar to the article about this case Sonja R. West, A First Amendment expert at the University of Georgia Law School, said “Juries have never been the media's best friend but I think we are seeing a trend against the press lately. The courts and the public seem to becoming less likely to give the press the benefit of the doubt and more interested in protecting individuals from what they view as the powerful and sensationalistic media.”



It is a few days before the election of a new president and let me offer a compromise to election fatigue. Instead of watching the returns rent a movie about a president instead. Settle in with the family, pop some popcorn or if you can indulge in an adult beverage of choice and enjoy a good movie. The selections made here should all be available on streaming services or for rent or purchase. I've tried to find movies that can inspire, entertain and relieve the tension of this current political season. If you have smart phone you will get alerts when the news media crown the winner. You don't have to be present. In no particular order these are some movies I suggest –

The American President – (1995-Universal/Castle Rock) – Romantic comedy-drama starring Michael Douglas and Annette Benning as the leads. It was directed by Rob Reiner and written by Aaron Sorkin (later to create the TV series West Wing about a President). It focuses on a President headed for re-election, a widower with a young daughter, who falls in love with a political lobbyist that could derail his campaign. This was one of my sister's favorite movies and should appeal to those who think Pretty Woman is a good movie. The production is beautiful and they are still using the Oval Office set built for this film in just about every movie or TV show around. It is rated PG-13 in 1995 and should be considered tame by now. It should be available to stream on Amazon Prime Video and for purchase from Google Play.

Manchurian Candidate (Original) – (1962-MGM) – A tight thriller based on the novel by Richard Condon with a screenplay by George Axelrod and directed by the great John Frankenheimer Starring Frank Sinatra (in probably his best role) and Laurence Harvey with a stunning and chilling performance by Angela Landsbury (not Jessica Fletcher here). It centers on the brainwashing of a former prisoner of war used as an unwitting assassin for an “international Communist conspiracy.” It was produced during the height of the Cold War and close to the Cuban Missile Crisis so it resonated with the audience of the day. It is a well made thriller that even today seems plausible. Avoid the recent remake they messed it up thoroughly. It is available on DVD or Blu-Ray.

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington – (1939-Columbia Pictures) – A wonderful film with Jimmy Stewart teaming with Frank Capra (director) to create the image of an incorruptible man that endures today. Naive and idealistic Jefferson Smith, leader of the Boy Rangers, is appointed on a lark by the spineless governor of his state. He is reunited with the state's senior senator--presidential hopeful and childhood hero, Senator Joseph Paine. In Washington, however, Smith discovers many of the shortcomings of the political process as his earnest goal of a national boys' camp leads to a conflict with the state political boss. The famous scene is the filibuster and I think this is the image we have of what a filibuster is, but alas not so today. Still a great film of political corruption and redemption that speaks to us today. Right now this is on Amazon Prime Video for streaming as well as Google Play.

Lincoln – (2012-Dreamworks/20th Century Fox) – Directed by Stephen Spielberg from the book by historian Doris Kerns Goodwin with a brilliant screenplay by Tony Kushner. Daniel Day Lewis was amazing as the 16th president and the film won just about every award out there. As the American Civil War winds inexorably toward conclusion, President Abraham Lincoln endeavors to achieve passage of the landmark constitutional amendment which will forever ban slavery from the United States. However, his task is a race against time, for peace may come at any time, and if it comes before the amendment is passed, the returning southern states will stop it before it can become law. Lincoln must, by almost any means possible, obtain enough votes from a recalcitrant Congress before peace arrives and it is too late. It's rated PG-13 and IMDb says its currently on Showtime and Starz as well as for rent on Amazon Video as well as Google Play.

Yes there are others out there to consider watching. But these I think are the best of the lot. They cover the spectrum from comedy to drama to thriller. All are made by people at the height of their talent and they produce almost perfect films that have stood the test of time. Reality will sink in on November 9th so on Tuesday, relax and enjoy yourself.



TV seasons used to go on for far longer than they do today. I can remember the days of 30 to 35 episode orders for a season. In the eighties (when I worked the industry) a full order season averaged around 22 episodes (with shows like Dallas, Knots Landing, Falcon Crest garnering orders of 25 or more since the “prime time soaps” didn't rerun well in the Summer) and there it stayed for awhile. Last season we discussed how the broadcast networks were not canceling shows, just not giving them the “back nine” or full season orders.

But even full season orders were not guarantees for anything. Both Supergirl and Limitless were given what the network considered full season orders and both are not on that network's schedule this season. Supergirl (18 episodes on CBS) is now on the CW (co-owned by CBS and Warner Bros) and Limitless (22 episodes on CBS) canceled after one season. This past week the traditional networks gave out “full season orders” to freshman shows earlier than in recent years. Still, for a few of them, a full season is now 18 episodes.

CBS has given additional episode orders for Bull, Kevin Can Wait and MacGyver. All three have been given “the back nine” bringing them up to a full 22-episode season. Bull is considered the most watched new drama among the Fall shows, but it follows the number one drama on Tuesdays (NCIS) so it was expected to do well. It however has improved the time-slot ratings from NCIS: New Orleans season two ratings. Bull also benefits from Michael Weatherly as star (he left NCIS after 13 seasons) and some sharp writing but still is at its base level a police procedural and compliments NCIS.

Kevin Can Wait seems more of same from the former King of Queens star Kevin James. One review says the show feels like the King of Queens on his second marriage and retired (Kevin James' character is a retired police officer). James had embarked on a motion picture career but seems to have not made a mark in that medium (Mall Cop 1 and 2) and seems comfortable in the roll as a loveable buffoon with a long-suffering wife on the small screen. Kevin Can Wait is the top-rated new comedy for the Fall according to the network. MacGyver is the reboot of a classic adventure series joining another successful reboot on the Friday CBS schedule (Hawaii 5-O).

They went younger in the title role casting (as they did in Hawaii 5-O) and seems to have scored well in the all-important 18-35 demographic in viewers as well as complimenting Hawaii 5-O and Blue Bloods. Fridays are an increasingly difficult night for ratings in that, especially in the Fall, potential viewership is low (and Friday night High School Football is often cited as a reason). All three shows have improved ratings of the previous owner of that time slot and is a contributing factor to their early renewal. Bull and MacGyver benefit also from being produced in part by CBS Studios.

However, over at ABC, NBC and Fox renewals and season orders have been handed out as well but with shorter “full” seasons for some. NBC's critically acclaimed comedy, This Is Us, has received what the network is calling a full season order of 18 episodes. Also at NBC is a full 22-episode order for the comedy Superstore from mid-season last Spring. Fox's Lethal Weapon (based on the film series) is also set for an 18-episode order for their “full season” as well. Over at ABC, political thriller Designated Survivor will operate under a full 22-episode order to tell its story of assassination and terror starring Keifer Sutherland (late of the series 24). Speechless has a 22-episode order for the family comedy comfortably sandwiched in between two other successful ABC comedies (The Goldbergs and Modern Family). Speechless stars Minnie Driver as a mother handling the severe handicap of one of her kids. It received a huge push from critics and is benefiting from an excellent time slot.

As the season progresses toward the holidays, the prospect of receiving a full 22-episode back order for series will diminish. TV Seasons run through the May Sweeps rating period now and it is important for networks to have the best sweeps period possible (this is where all of those 'a very special episode of' happens) since the next season's ad rates depend on strong Winter and Spring ratings in time periods and not necessarily shows. It is the time period the network is selling most times to a sponsor. It is also sometimes the time period that keeps a show on the air. If a show's rating are marginal is there something else in development that could do better? Sometimes not so a marginal show stays in place. This kind of thinking plays mostly into the ten o'clock period rather than eight.

A show at eight must carry an entire evening of programming on its back while a show at ten needs to deliver a strong audience to the local news and into the late night schedule. Supergirl at eight was too expensive for the numbers delivered but was still strong with consistent audience numbers in the correct demographic all season long to garner moving to a network whose overall ratings are lower than the others. Limitless, while strong early, seemed to diminish over the course of the season as the producers didn't quite know what to do with the premise. Viewers and the network recognized it as a dead-end.

We will see more shows getting fewer and fewer episodes to produce within a season due to production costs and the advent of other services splintering the audience. Netfix and Amazon Prime have both proved successful with a “season” there being between 10 and 13-episodes with high-cost budgets. Eighteen seems to be the new 22 for commercial networks as networks battle back from cable and streaming services. It will be interesting to see CBS All Access and what success they have with their The Good Wife spin-off in January and the next Star Trek TV show in the Spring as exclusives to their streaming service. Both will be about 13-episodes and drop once a week instead of the Netflix all-at-once model.

Viewership internationally will also play into the relative successes of productions in the future as well. The world appeal of Doctor Who influenced the BBC to bring the show back after some 20-year hiatus in production. Star Trek will also need a strong international audience to continue with a large enough special effects budget to the expected level of a Star Trek property. As I've said before, we live in interesting times as far as entertainment is concerned. But in the end it will still be box office for movies and ratings for TV that will determine what comes, goes or stays.



I discovered the immense talent of Gisele Legace through her most recent Kickstarter campaign last year for printing her webcomic in hard copy book form. Friends I know and respect had said to look at the campaign and it did indeed strike a chord with me and I participated and became a follower of her Pixie Trix Comics website.

Her style is wholly original. You can identify her style from across the room but when she is working on characters from Archie or more recently Betty Boop, she is able to meld her style with what has made these characters iconic. Her most recent commercial work is from two very different comic book companies. For Archie Comics she can be seen illustrating The Archies Meet the Ramones book (yes, I said the Ramones) and from Dynamite her visual version of the iconic cartoon character, Betty Boop is now available.

Her own webcomic is a very adult comedy (think an R-Rated Three's Company) over at Pixie Trix Comics (which also is an access point to other creators properties as well as her own Eerie Cuties) but her style is able to be all-ages and just all delightful. We have become Facebook friends and she graciously submitted to 10 Questions by Email so I could give you some sense of her talent and how a creative mind works.

She was born in New Brunswick, Canada (which is one of Canada's three maritime provinces together with Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia) and currently lives there. She graduated with a degree in graphic design from La Cite Collegiate in Ottawa. In the early 1990s she was a bassist for the Quebec all-girl band Barbarella (named for a French adventure comic strip and a Jane Fonda film) and worked as a graphic designer for an advertising company. In 2000 she created a webcomic that established her career path to today. She began in 2008, with collaborators, to create Menage a 3, the story of Gary – a little uptight Montrealite and his friends – and that was the beginning of Pixie Trix Comics.

I asked the big question first – what inspired your work in comics? “I discovered comics at a very young age. Pretty sure as soon as I could read, I had comics under my nose. Most of them were Belgian comics,” she said. “The Smurfs were probably what got me hooked, and from there, I went on to read more such as Astérix, Tin Tin, Lucky Luke, eventually Archie and company.”

And as many before her she wasn't content with simply just reading them she started to try and draw what she saw in these comics. “I remember drawing my own Astérix story. I also remember trying to reproduce the profiles of Betty and Veronica. I was very attracted to Dan Decarlo's style (the late Decarlo refined the modern/classic Archie art style as well as creating Joise and the Pussycats and co-created Sabrina in the Archieverse). In my late teens, I left drawing aside to pursue a career in music but the itch to draw again came back to me in my early twenties. I haven't stopped since.”

The Pixie Trix Comix brand came about as a way to group all the comics she was involved with under one roof. “At first, I was highly involved with most comics under Pixie Trix, but now we have some that I'm barely involved with. My only involvement could be that the series is based off one of my creations, like Chloe from Dangerously Chloe. The comic, Ménage à 3, is the flagship title for the brand, and is also the series I'm the most involved with.”

Process in creativity is always interesting to talk about. So when a comic artist is also the writer, what comes first a script or the illustrations? A project she is working alone on she still writes a full script before the drawing. Gisele says she rarely edits as she draws. “It's usually the same thing when I'm co-writing with David Lumsdon (her Pixie Trix collaborator). We usually decide who will write the next comic, and go from there. Some strips are 50/50 on writing as well. It's a weird system sometimes.”

As part of the process in this modern age most comic books and strips are created digitally. According to Gisele she is pretty much all digital. “I am using a small Wacom tablet, I pencil, ink & letter in a program called Manga Studio EX4 (now called Clip Studio Paint.) I've been fully digital for almost a decade now. I'll still draw on paper for art commissions.” And commissions are a growing part of a comic artist's life since “original comic art” is now a file and not on illustration board. Commissions are ordered through her website as well as appearances at comic conventions. She most recently was at the New York Con where she met fans and was kept busy by art requests.

I asked if she liked the experience, “They're a great way to meet fans, and also colleagues. It's also a great way to get me out of the house, and out of my studio. I spend so much time there! I just have to plan them in such a way that they don't interfere too much with my deadlines. That's the hardest part, really.”

As I said before, her style is perfect when working on the Archie characters and I wondered if there is a different approach creatively to working on an established character she didn't own. “It's really a question of control. When you're working on your own stuff, you have total control. There's no one there to tell you 'you can't do that.' However, once a property is older, it can happen to even one you own. Some characters just wouldn't do certain things, and you have to respect that.” She worked on a special Archie feature where Archie and Jughead were the girls and Betty and Veronica were the boys. She had the job of making Archie recognizable as a girl but still a girl. She nailed it perfectly.

Which brings us to her most recent commercial work, Betty Boop. A friend of hers, who works at Dynamite (a comic book publisher), reached out to her to see if there was interest in drawing a Betty Boop comic. “I wasn't sure at first, but after a few sketches, I was sold on the idea of doing this.” “I knew who Betty Boop was but wasn't familiar with the cartoons at all. I wasn't familiar with her comic strips either. I knew she was iconic as I had seen her used on merchandise, but that's about it. Growing up in a more French environment is probably why I wasn't aware of her cartoons. I don't know if they were even dubbed in French. However, even not knowing too much of her past, I always thought she had an interesting design. She puts a smile on my face. She even does so when I'm drawing her now. I can say I've now watched many Betty Boop cartoons, and even read her comic strips. Great stuff!”

Gisele's take on Betty Boop is nigh on perfect but with a wholly modern sensibility. Reviews are in that she was the perfect choice for the job. Which led to the question of is there a comic character she would like to get her hands on as a creator? “Vampirella is the first character that comes to mind right now. I'd really like to take a stab (no pun intended) at her. There are many others though. In the future, I hope I get to try my hands at a superhero title, and a detective one too.”

A new Supergirl comic by Gisele Legace or her take on Batgirl would be perfect. I also see her doing well with the original Marvel Family of characters (now called Shazam by DC Comics). She has a welcoming style that is suggestive of perhaps a Manga approach but with her own spin. You can find her material online at pixietrixcomics.com as well as the Ramones and Betty Boop available digitally at Comixology. Not sure the local comics shops would have them in stock without special ordering. Please remember the Pixie Trix material is adult and not intended for everyone. It is a sweet touch and tickle approach but very adult.

Gisele Lagace is first and foremost a storyteller. She is able to tell her story visually and compliments the writing well. She doesn't get ahead of the story and the art is just gorgeous to look at without really reading anything. She is a sweet person as well as a complete professional.



It was announced that soap opera creator/writer Agnes Nixon (All My Children; One Live to Live) passed away at the age of 94 this last week due to complications from Parkinson’s Disease. I was struck that she is the last of the “second generation of legends” to leave the creative world. Agnes Nixon was preceded in death by Ted Corday (Days of Our Lives) and William Bell (Young and the Restless; Bold and Beautiful) contemporaries, sometime collaborators and all three got their start from one of the first legends of daytime, Irna Phillips (The Guiding Light, Young Doctor Malone, among her radio shows and Guiding Light, As the World Turns, Another World and Love Is A Many Splendored Thing on TV).

Nixon wrote for Phillips and was, with Ted Corday, part of the team that brought The Guiding Light from radio to television in the early 1950s. Nixon would write for Guiding Light well into the 1960s and then take over Another World from Phillips and Corday before being lured to ABC and creating her own signature shows All My Children and One Life to Live.

Each of them inherited from Phillips the ability to create properties that even in a changing TV landscape have lasted for decades. Days of Our Lives just celebrated 50 years on the air with Y&R well into its fourth decade. Both Nixon's ABC shows lasted 40-plus years and Guiding Light was canceled in its 72nd year (combining years on radio and TV). These creators were giants of storytelling and Nixon is the last of her generation, the like we will never seen again.

Nixon infused her storytelling with a sense of purpose and realism not found even in prime time shows at the time. In 1964 the lead character of The Guiding Light, Bert Bauer, would go through the scare of cervical cancer following a Pap Smear. Nixon was able to convince Proctor & Gamble – who owned the show – and a skeptic network (CBS) to go through the ground breaking storyline. She did so without using words “cancer;” “uterus” or “hysterectomy” in any of the scripts conveying what was going on through deft storytelling and superior acting. But the audience understood and flooded the sponsor and network with letters all talking about their own testing and discovery and how grateful they were to the show.

In her own show One Life to Live she had many ethnic characters, including Jews, Polish-Americans and African-Americans. A woman assumed to be white was revealed after months to be a light-skinned black, turning the story, and the audience, sharply to questions of racial prejudice. Nixon also would write about legal abortion following the Roe v Wade decision on All My Children and sent a beloved character off to be killed in Viet Nam. The mother of the character gave a powerful antiwar speech at a time when it was not fashionable and dangerous for a network and sponsor.

She was herself unremarkable if you looked at her life and in contrast to the tales of murder and infidelity she wrote. Nixon was happily married for many years and raised her family in suburban Pennsylvania which served as the model for Pine Valley and Langview in her shows. She said of her stories in an interview some years ago,”...if you look at your family and your friends and you have a writer’s viewpoint, you can see each person’s life as a soap opera in itself. The really amazing thing is they are basically similar.”

Her career began much like a plot twist in a soap opera. Her father tried to dissuade her from a writing career by arranging a talk with the aforementioned Irna Phillips. After reading a script she had written, Phillips offered her a job in New York where in 1948 she began writing radio scripts for a hospital drama, Woman in White. The recipient of many awards, including a Daytime Emmy for lifetime achievement in 2010, Nixon often spoke of soap operas as ensembles and would share credit with actors, directors, producers, camera crews and other writers. Her own contributions, she said, had no unrealistic objectives. “On the social issues, whether the Vietnam War or abortion or racism, I never thought I could change the way most people felt,” she told the Catholic magazine America in 2002. “I just wanted to show the unfairness of it, the inequality, the injustice.”

Agnes Nixon was a housewife, mother and worked mostly from her home and commuted to New York when needed. She worked in helping to try and relaunch All My Children and One Life to Live on the Internet with a company called Prospect Park in 2013. They went into production with her overseeing the story lines but alas because of financing, ABC and the creative unions both shows ended with a whimper a few months later. It is fitting that the soaps she moved from a dying medium – dramatic radio – to television are also passing on from the “dying networks” – only four soap operas survive today on commercial TV networks – as her brilliant light fades as well.



Based on previews and early trailers I was convinced that I would like one of the two shows discussed here and have issues with the other. Imagine my surprise when that pre-opinion was completely flipped. The two shows in question are ABC's comedy Speechless and the CBS drama Bull.

As is my usual I didn't read reviews or advance press prior to watching the shows. Since I do not have cable, both were viewed after their debut with Speechless viewed on Hulu (an Internet streaming service owned by studios and networks) and Bull was viewed on CBS All Access (their own Internet streaming service). I had the most hope for Speechless which stars the incomparable actress Minnie Driver. And Bull was based on the life and loves of Dr. Phil before he met Oprah. It stars Michael Weatherly from NCIS and looked predictable.

Lets look at Speechless first. The premise of the show is a family comedy centered on dealing with a kid with Cerebral Palsy. The child cannot speak and uses a light board to point and spell out words letter by letter. It is this aspect they take their title for the show. He is speechless and in search of a voice. Minnie Driver plays his mother who obviously loves and protects this special needs child who also has two other siblings and a father. The previews looked promising and I was hoping for a sort of Life Goes On comedy/drama about a family dealing with life and disability in a truly loving and positive manner. Apparently I was asking too much in this day and age.

Yes, I realize this sounds like an old pout complaining about today's TV and how much better it was “in my day.” But I also have some experience in dealing with disability, the American education system with a mother who could be strident in defense of her child. What bothered me most about Speechless was the utter predictability of the plot, the character interaction and the mostly contrived happy ending. Both Hollywood Reporter and Variety called it a “smart comedy” and truly I wish it were just that – smart and somewhat self-aware so it would know when it goes off the rails to make its point. It looked like a show with producers of good intentions who didn't know a thing about disability and the real world.

The other surprise is that according to reviews and press releases the creator of the show has a special needs child in a similar situation and the writers in the writers room also have special needs children. This only makes the show even sadder to me. Minnie Driver's character is written and played so over-the-top as to be annoying and is so consumed with the special needs child as to be absent to the other kids and her husband. She has a license plate that says Shes Nutz and apparently the only two traffic cops in Southern California when they see her driving and placing her family and others in danger won't stop her because its – well –pointless because she's nuts.

The character says OY! way too much but probably used to explain Driver's distinctive British accent. OY is a stereotypical usage of an Eastender working class Londoner that you don't ever hear in working class shows from the UK. It is the equivalent of a having a US Southern character say y'all every few minutes. Yes, we know its used but not with every breath you take. The long suffering family is constantly being uprooted and moved as the mother searches for the perfect place of acceptance for her special needs child. The ONE smart character is the middle child (and I am assuming he's the middle child since ALL the kids are so close in age) when he pleads with his father that he doesn't want to be moved again when they know she will discover this “perfect place” isn't perfect at all.

And this is the most irritating part of this show. The kid's comment is right. There is no perfect, accepting place and with kids ranging in ages from like 10 to 14 even the strident, overbearing mother should have learned this by now. They should be teaching the kids to adapt, fight for their rights but understand there will be obstacles. This character is looking for no barriers and no obstacles. Which is not realistic and not funny to watch. That she hasn't learned any of this at the point the series starts is indicative of the fact the character (and possibly the writer who created her) hasn't come to terms with her son's disability herself and that is perhaps the saddest part of this whole show.

The acting is first rate from all of the actors of various ages. But the writing is massively unfunny, predictable and they stereotype every one and every ethnic group you could imagine. The show was created by Scott Silveri (Friends) who has said he didn't want this to become “the disability show” and what he called “inspiroporn.” Man, did he ever fail. It is all about the disability and not about living with one. Actor Mitch Fowler has Cerebral Palsy and manages to be better than the material he was given. It's just the material has so missed their stated intentions I doubt it can get better in my mind. But given the positive press it will at least last the season. Speechless airs on ABC Wednesdays at 8:00 pm. Make up your own mind since I am told I am being too critical. Imagine that.

The next one is a fast and furious look at Bull (seen on Tuesdays from CBS following a strong and sweet lead-in from NCIS). It is based on Dr. Phil's prior career as a jury analyst looking at people's backgrounds, beliefs and general attitude to determine a friendlier jury for their client. Since my feelings for the good doctor are not exactly positive, I was surprised by the show. Yes, Michael Weatherly is as engaging here as he was on NCIS (albeit playing it more serious) but the writing was sharp and you are led through the clues with little exposition and left to determine what is important and not. There were a few surprises and the real killer was not a surprise but the reveal was handled with a minimum of drama making it jump off the screen.

The production values are impeccable and the flow of action requires your attention to detail. Yes, it is a police procedural at its core and it also follows many of the same tropes as are on all the other shows. But there is still enough here to make a second look necessary. As a plot it sold the show, subsequent episodes will prove whether or not this is indeed a series or a one off.

Network television doesn't always surprise but with these two shows what I was expecting was different from their reality. Is it possible for Speechless to get better? Yes, the talent is in place and the premise topical. Is there a possibility that Bull will fail? Oh, yes it could become a formula police show very easily. That is why a good series grows over a season and years and bad ones disappears.



We lost two incredible writers this past week. American play-write Edward Albee (Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolfe) and Canadian novelist WP Kinsella. I will leave you to laud and remember Albee as his obituary and remembrances will be all over the place for the next few weeks. But few will remark about Kinsella because he wrote in relative obscurity although his most famous book was the basis for many people's favorite movie, Field of Dreams.

I picked up the paperback edition of Shoeless Joe (which became Field of Dreams) in the Athens, Ohio Little Professor Bookstore in 1983. I was preparing to drive – with my father – from Ohio to California for an internship at Lorimar Productions. The book looked interesting and in those pre-internet days the reviews quoted on the back cover were impressive enough. So I bought the book to read across country as we traveled. I read it while Dad drove (although he forced me to drive more times than I wanted) and at night in the various motels we stayed. Even with that it was such a compelling story of a father and son reconnecting (and so prescient as to what my Dad and I were experiencing) that I was more than half-way through the book after the three-day trip.

One thing I knew for sure was given the structure of the book and its underlying subject – baseball – it wouldn't be spoiled by movie producers. It would be 1987 and I'm sitting in my office (actually a glorified hallway on the MGM Studio lot) talking about a TV project with erstwhile producer Brian Frankish (he was producing Max Headroom for Lorimar at the time) when he mentioned he was going to line produce a movie based on a book called Shoeless Joe. I literally got whiplash as I turned toward him and asked who was doing the screenplay.

He was surprised I had even heard of the book let alone have read the darn thing. I told him there was so much interior feelings to the book that dialog would change the tone of the story. He admitted it was going to be a “bitch of time” because the original author was crazy. At that time Kevin Costner was a hot item and the film was a guaranteed go based on Costner alone. I was reminded of his comment about Kinsella when the literary agent said about him in the announcement of his death on Friday last, “He was a dedicated storyteller, performer, curmudgeon, an irascible and difficult man.” But the agent went on to say his writing made “people laugh, cry and think for decades” and that his writing would endure. I hope so. He was an incredible writer that often used the metaphor of baseball as the backdrop of his stories. Kinsella also approved of the finished film.

He wrote novels and short stories that spoke about people and their lives in ways few authors had or could. Given that Kinsella was somewhat of a recluse and that he used difficult and reclusive author JD Salinger as a character in the book Shoeless Joe, the rumors were fueled that Kinsella was actually Salinger. That and the fact that Salinger had used the surname of Kinsella in Cather in the Rye. The rumors were so hot at one time that Salinger threatened suit if Universal used him as a character in the film of the book. You will remember that James Earl Jones played the author character in the film and if you knew anything about Salinger, that was who he was playing anyway. But personally I think Kinsella was a far better writer and storyteller than Salinger. He could make you laugh as well as cry with his characters. Salinger was just so heavily depressed in life and his writing.

Kinsella published over 30 books and looking on Amazon a lot of them are still in print or in ebook form. My favorites other than Shoeless Joe (which I think is an all-time favorite novel) is The Iowa Baseball Confederacy (1986) and Box Socials (1992). The Confederacy is a book about a son trying to complete a father's dream about documenting the Chicago Cubs of 1908 going to Onamata, Iowa for an exhibition game that lasted two-thousand innings and played mostly in the rain. No one remembers it or the Confederacy but the son labors on. Notice a theme here? Fathers, sons and baseball would be recurring through Kinsella's works. The other, Box Social, is a slim supposedly Young Adult novel set in 1940 Alberta, Canada and expertly weaves a tale of small town life and people knowing your business as well as baseball. It is a “coming of age” story that is just about perfect in tone and character. Both are available in print and ebook form. There is a new book – 2013 – that I am looking forward to called Butterfly Winter as well as a book to be published next year, Russian Dolls.

In 2011 the Canadian Baseball hall of Fame awarded him the Jack Graney Award for a significant contribution to the game of baseball in Canada. “I wrote it 30 years ago (Shoeless Joe) and the fact that people are still discovering it makes me proud. It looks like it will stand the test of time,” he said then. He added the phrases “If you build it, they will come” and “Go the distance” to our language lexicon. It will indeed stand the test of time.

Kinsella was born in 1935 in Edmundton, Alberta, Canada. He was raised until he was 10 years old at a homestead in Darwell, Alberta and home schooled by his mother. According to the Enclyclopedia of Canadian Writers, Kinsella was also noted for stories surrounding First Nation peoples from his area. He wrote these in a humorous voice and was at once criticized and given awards for the same set of stories. He rejected the criticism on the grounds that a writer has the license to create anything he chooses and called the term “cultural appropriation” the nonsense of “Eastern Canadian academics.”

He had been ill for some time and his death was “doctor assisted” which became legal in Canada this past June. To date he is the most famous person to utilize the new law (which is similar to laws in Oregon and California). William Patrick Kinsella was 81 years old at his death.



It is no new idea that Ohio, during the political season every four years, becomes a focus of analysts, news media and the political parties. However why this is and its history and perhaps the future of this position among the rest of the states is reviewed and explained in an interesting little book from Ohio University Press by Kyle Kondik.

The Bellwether: Why Ohio Picks the President was published on June 15, 2016 and is already being talked about in political circles as a good overall view of Ohio as power broker even in this upcoming presidential election in November. Kondik is just ten years out from graduating Ohio University in Athens and is an analyst for the prestigious Center for Politics at the University of Virginia whose accuracy in predicting recent presidential elections has been impressive.

While the book does not predict what will happen in November, it makes the case that Ohio will be influential in selecting the winner of the contest at hand. History shows the state as having a defining role in these elections since 1896 and only missing the national vote a handful of times. As Kondik says in his introduction, “...Ohio voters end up speaking for more than just themselves, whether they realize it or not.”

The book explores the reasons and says the idea of a Bellwether state as well as a swing state (he says they are different but Ohio can be both) was first mentioned in a New York Times article around 1948. The definition of the actual word bellwether is a “castrated male sheep (a wether) used to lead a flock of sheep.” It is belled so as to be able to follow the wether and thus the flock. It is castrated so as to focus on the job at hand. Cynics may well indeed see this as a definition of the electorate of a state being led to a decision by way of mindless politicking through the media. Deep in the book Kondik discusses the huge amounts of money made by television media companies in Ohio during this time. We already know that Hillary Clinton has spent millions on ads here and that the Trump/Pence campaign will use targeted commercials here as well.

But the question is why Ohio? It goes back to the formation of the territory as a state, its geographic location and its demographics. According to Kondik the area that became Ohio is the way it is from how it was settled. Northern Ohio was settled by peoples moving from New England (specifically Connecticut) who lost their homes and land during the Revolutionary War. This was part of the Western Reserve of the territory and many of the cities even today are named for New England towns. “This fact gave a distinctly New England flavor to the Connecticut Reserve and has had a substantial impact upon the history of Ohio.”

Moses Cleaveland bought land from Connecticut Reserve to found his city on the lake eventually dropping the first “a” from its name. This same group also settled in areas of the Southeast where Marietta and Athens are today (and probably best explains why Athens County reflects the politics it does in spite of the rest of the region).

Our portion of the state was owned by Virginia between the Scioto and Little Miami Rivers and north of the Ohio River. This was called the “Virginia Military District and was used to pay bounties to soldiers who had served in the state's military forces.” This territory runs along the Ohio River from outside Cincinnati to here – Portsmouth – also moving north to take in Chillicothe on the east and the western third of Franklin County. So in northern Ohio is a New England influence and in our portion a southern influence and that explains – according to many – the diversity of thought and living of the population in Ohio. (Yes, there is a Midlands influenced by Pennsylvania but go and read the book about that area.) African Americans – and other ethnic immigrants – would move north from the south or west from the east and into Ohio also adding to the demographic make-up we have today.

Kondik goes into great detail outlining the different regions and influences within those regions and why they matter even to this day. My own experience with the region and state's influence tell the same kind of story that this book details. In the 2004 and 2008 elections I was working in a party headquarters and was interviewed by television networks from the United Kingdom, Denmark and Spain because of the state – and this region's – history of voting for the “winners” more often than not. We were not approached in 2012 since in 2008 the region did not vote Obama although the state did.

The Bellwether: Why Ohio Picks the President is an interesting book to read although twenty years ago this book of only 168 pages would have been a series of magazine articles in a major political magazine. As I have stated in the past journalism in this country has all but died and any thoughtful piece of writing cannot exist in the modern media environment. Thus a very small book on a huge subject.

Kyle Kondik makes an excellent case for our history and talks about how the diminishing population in the state is lessening our influence as we lose Electoral College votes and perhaps our place as “the Gateway to the Midwest.” Also our demographics show us as a “very white state” in a time when ethnic minorities – specifically Hispanics and Asians – are growing in numbers and voter influence. But for now, and elections into the foreseeable future, Ohio will be an important state for national politics and selecting presidents as we have since the state was born.

The book can be bought from Amazon in both paperback and ebook editions as well as directly from Ohio University Press in Athens. If nothing else makes you go out and vote this election, please understand the world is watching you.



I will contend that any civilization’s culture is better identified by what is commonly called “pop culture.” That is the things in a culture that were popular with the masses but not regarded as classic in nature by the highly educated or highly regarded.

In Victorian England Charles Dickens was part of the popular culture and his works were published in chapter installments within a popular magazine. The literary community at the time dismissed his work as “fodder for the masses” and nothing more. In fact his works really were not taken seriously until they were published as “real books” in the USA. And to some extent, Shakespeare before him was considered mass entertainment.

Today there are degrees to be had and universities build libraries devoted to this thing called popular culture but we still, as a society, have difficulty taking seriously what people read, watch and experience to entertain themselves. This was driven home to me while in conversation with a recent gathering of friends in a relaxed atmosphere.

We were discussing ways of maneuvering in and around places like New York City and Washington, DC. I mentioned it was my experience that renting a limo service in a large city was preferable to using a taxi. I used the example of when I was regularly visiting my sister’s home in Laurel, Maryland (outside of DC) and I would use a limo service to go to a small boutique hotel across from the Library of Congress where I was doing research.

A person asked what I was researching and I mentioned that I went sometimes twice a year at that time to listen to recordings from the NBC Radio Network and their collection of radio soap opera recordings. I continued talking about the rationale for the limo when this person said, “Why would you listen to soap operas?” using a tone as if I was researching child pornography. My reply was “Why not?”

I am fairly used to the dismissive attitudes of people who think that comic strips, comic books, black and white movie serials and even radio and television soap operas are trash. They are. And as such were designed to be throw-away entertainment – and sadly many portions of this culture has been lost forever. But for some reason this particular comment rankled just a bit more. After all I worked on both prime time and daytime serial dramas.

And perhaps it also stemmed more from the never-going-to-complete-what-I-started position I am in for a variety of reasons. I was researching a particular group of radio soaps that were significant because the scripts and formats were sold to other countries to be produced there with a local voice rather than an American accent. I had found online a catalog of American radio soap operas produced in and for Australia. I was calling my research Same Stories, Different Voices and had planned to use this as a basis for a doctoral program in popular culture from one of the universities who had a repository of documents, scripts and recordings from donations by the creators of the material.

Bowling Green University here in Ohio has the Proctor and Gamble Productions material spanning radio and television; University of Wisconsin in Madison has the papers of Irna Phillips who helped define the soap genre in both radio and television with and without P&G (as well as the paperwork for the recordings in the Library of Congress); Elaine Carrington, who created one of the soaps that was a big hit in Australia after its USA run of episodes, has her works in the New York Library and possibly Columbia University; and the husband and wife team of Frank and Anne Hummert who had a virtual “soap factory” within a large Chicago Advertising Agency has their papers at the University of Wyoming's American Heritage Center.

The soap opera in particular is that American addition to the world cultural landscape that continues to entertain audiences throughout our world. Each county that produces TV or radio entertainment has at least one soap of some kind. The BBC used the soap format to beam into Afghanistan during the Taliban reign health and safety commentary hidden in a popular radio soap over their short wave stations. Coronation Street has a 60-year run and counting in the UK and around the world along with the BBC’s own Eastenders just celebrating 25 years on the air.

The Telenovela in Latin American TV is a soap mini-series and again spans the world and various cultures. We still call them soap operas because they were owned or sponsored by soap companies on radio like P&G, Colgate and Palmolive. That evaporated sometime in the transition to television and the dominance of networks owning their own programming (for instance The Guiding Light on radio was heard on all three radio networks albeit at different times of the day but on the same day because P&G owned it and could place it that way). But even in Afghanistan the format is known as a soap.

And certainly the decline of the American daytime soap is also worth discussing as is the rise of continued stories in prime time dramas which continues unabated it seems. So that is what I plan to do over the next few months and into next year. I will use my knowledge, love and expertise in this area of pop culture to discuss why we should take them seriously for study. Don’t worry it won’t be every week for months on end but scattered throughout as I find the time to revisit the research and when current subject matter for here is limited. I’m also planning some more “10 Questions by Email” profiles from writers, artists, musicians and other artists I think you should know about.

The world sees us through our pop culture for better or worse. American movies and television shows dominate the world market. From rock and roll to soaps to comics (and the more cultured graphic novel) all present who we are or who we say we are and how we are perceived by the world.

So why shouldn’t we look seriously at the forms of entertainment and art that has so shaped that perception of the USA? I cannot think of a reason so you will benefit – or not – from what would essentially be my doctoral thesis over a large number of months. I will strive to keep it pithy, informative and necessarily brief in column form. Hopefully I can adequately discuss why that which entertains us tells us so much about ourselves.



There is a 1984 Michel Caine movie called Blame It On Rio. It is remembered only as the last film directed by Stanley Donen (On the Town, Singing in the Rain and a nice man when I met him also in the 1980s) and was about bad behavior in and around the Brazilian resort town. While it was reviewed as a humorless comedy, the title is perhaps more relevant to recent discoveries by USA Today about the incident of USA swimmers in a gasoline station, edited videotape and a compliant NBC News to Rio Police's version of the story.

It didn't take USA Today Sports to do much digging to discover that Rio authorities were just as exaggerated about their version of the story as Ryan Lochte and his fellow swimmers were initially. But the most shocking thing about this is that NBC News – the USA television partner in the Olympic games – apparently did not do their own due diligence on the story before going along with the Rio police and the organizing committee of the South American resort town's international sporting event.

Mike Moore, a sports reporter for USA Today, merely did what reporters used to do and dug out information behind the story. What he found and published in “The Nation's Newspaper” puts to shame NBC News and especially Matt Lauer who interviewed Lochte in a much hyped multi-part interview. Yes Lochte exaggerated the incident. But yes, the swimmers were held at gunpoint by “security guards” at a gasoline station and money exchanged hands for “vandalism.” According to Moore's story, an unedited security tape shows a framed poster being damaged and only a framed poster. No vandalism in the restroom, no public urination just rude behavior by drunk athletes which is bad enough.

But the unedited tape, according to Moore in his August 22nd story, also showed armed security guards holding the athletes at gunpoint and money exchanged. Payment for damages? Perhaps. But according to the Rio officials and fines levied on the swimmers one would expect more physical damage. And where did the money paid on site go? It is implied into the pockets of the guards. It appears NBC News did no independent investigation and merely went with what the Rio officials were touting – including two-minutes excluded in the public released tape.

Moore's narrative of the events were “constructed by USA Today Sports from witness statements, official investigations, surveillance videos and media reports –[which] supports Lochte’s later account in which he said he thought the swimmers were being robbed when they were approached at a gas station by armed men who flashed badges, pointed guns at them and demanded money.” What real reporters do every day. And further the officials claims and fine levied were excessive by even Brazil standards says Moore's story, “A Brazilian judge says police might have been hasty in determining the security guards, by how they dealt with the swimmers, did not commit a robbery. A lawyer who has practiced in Brazil for 25 years says she does not think the actions of Lochte and teammate Jimmy Feigen constitute the filing of a false police report as defined under Brazilian law.” Although Feigen paid a huge fine just to leave the country.

I am in no way excusing the actions of Lochte or the others. It plays into the stereotype of the rich, uncaring American that is even considered true by our allies let alone a tentative government like Brazil. Still, NBC News has a responsibility to be a news organization if indeed they wish to continue to be considered one. ABC Sports – not the news division then in the corporate structure of ABC – stepped up to the plate at the 1976 Munich Olympics when the entire Israeli Olympic team was held hostage and murdered by Palestinian terrorists and covered the news event in their laps. They won awards and respect for their efforts. In the years hence – before ABC News folded sports under their umbrella – ABC Sports did indeed follow the stories as they developed. Perhaps NBCUniversal, the corporate parent of NBC and their parent Comcast, didn't want to cover negative Brazilian news.

NBC also ignored for days the issue of the pool water in the diving pool – it became green mysteriously – when other news outlets were talking about the potential bacteria risk to athletes. The official Rio response was that chemistry “wasn't an exact science.” In ALL water events, athletes were told to be careful not to swallow water whether in the bay outside or in any of the pools. This information was not shared with NBC viewers until days later when diving was suspended when an athlete became ill from some form of bacteria. When they resumed the diving, the pool water was at least blue, but it was apparent that after even showering off many sprayed down with what was reported – bit other news organizations – was an antiseptic spray.

Brazil itself has one of the most corrupt governments in South America (which is saying something) and Rio specifically is unsafe in general. Why does a gas station have armed guards – which turned out to be off duty police – if the city is safe at night? The pollution and poverty is staggering and thousands of poor people were displaced by construction of the Olympic venues. The president voted in by the populace was against the games so the legislature impeached her and replaced her with one of their own – a supporter of the games. As of Monday President Dilma Rousseff goes on trial before her Senate – well after the games and international scrutiny.

There were enough issues for the International Olympic Committee not to award the games to Rio de Janeiro in the first place. But they did and NBC News was a good friend in glossing over the issues as they developed in front of them. They even threw USA athletes under the bus even as USA Today was investigating what really happened. Lochte took responsibility for his stupidity and has lost millions of dollars in the process. Punishment enough, lets move on.

Unfortunately NBC has yet to apologize for not being a news organization when they had the story right in their lap. How can anyone think what they see on that network is accurate on any really important issue going forward? Especially in a presidential election year? The irony here is that when USA Today was launched it was not highly regarded and NBC News was the number one TV newscast in the nation. My how things have changed.