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Mushroom Soup Thursday

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Too much to do today so I've decided to declare a rare Mushroom Soup Thursday. For the uninitiated: This means that while there may be posting here today, there may not be much.

This blog may be down tonight for a while because its hosting company is doing maintenance. And it may be down now and then over the next week or two at some point because I'm planning on changing hosting companies.

A couple folks have written to ask why I haven't posted anything about the goings-on in Ferguson, Missouri. It's because I haven't thought of anything to say beyond the obvious. But let's not hear that there is no more racism in America. If there wasn't some in the killing of Michael Brown, there sure is plenty in the argument over what happened and what should change because of it.

And before I go: A couple of folks wrote to ask why I posted no personal remembrances and anecdotes about the late Lauren Bacall. That's because I have no personal remembrances and anecdotes about the late Lauren Bacall. She sure was pretty, though.

Recommended Reading

Fred Kaplan on Obama's next move (maybe) against ISIS. Why do I have the feeling that we're not looking for the best plan here but for the least bad?

Today's Video Link

When Don Pardo reached his sixtieth year in the business, there was a private party for him at NBC. This is the video that was shown there in tribute…

End of an Era?

My pal Leonard Maltin is about to bring out the 2015 (and, they're saying, final) edition of Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide. As he explains in this report, sales on the book are down due to competition from the Internet. He told me about this at Comic-Con and I offered to bet him there'd be another print edition before long. But it is true that there are no plans for any additional volumes after this one.

It's been an amazing effort, especially when you consider that Leonard and his wife Alice had to assemble it for the longest time without benefit of computers…and no easy way to gather the information. (Full Disclosure: Many years ago, I wrote about ten listings for the book, though I don't think Leonard used them all.) And it's been a very valuable book.

You can order this last (for now) paperback right here. But if you have the right hardware to handle it, you might prefer the Kindle edition. It's handier. I get the paperback for free but I'm paying for the Kindle so I have it, easily searchable, on my iPad.

And I haven't seen the new edition yet but I sure hope it still has my favorite sequence of one of the greatest movies ever made followed directly by one of the worst. I'm talking about Gone With the Wind being followed by Gong Show Movie, The.

Recommended Reading

Robert Reich believes corporations are undermining American democracy.

Alan Landsburg, R.I.P.

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Alan Landsburg, the prolific TV producer, died last Thursday of natural causes at the age of 81. In his day, he produced — and sometimes wrote and/or directed — thousands of hours of television programming. He was famous as a documentarian but his company was responsible for dozens of TV movies and dramatic specials, and occasionally dabbled in feature films. Among his more popular programs were In Search Of… and That's Incredible!

I worked for him for three years on the latter and I'll say this as nicely as I can: We did not get along. I did not like a lot of his business practices. He did not like a lot of things I said about them in his presence. To his credit, he was the kind of employer you could criticize in front of others and not lose your job. The show at the time was extremely profitable for him, earning him six figures a week, and I guess at those rates, you can endure a certain amount of snide remarks.

I'll say this for the man: He knew how to produce a TV show cheaper than anyone else. That can be good and bad. One of his producers once said, "Alan can take the impossible deal and make money on it." In the earliest days of cable TV, he agreed to produce some programming for budgets that others had rejected as absurd. On a lot of his TV Movies, he sold the project by paying top dollar for a script or to land a huge star, then made up for it by producing the film for nine dollars. Some of them were pretty good.

He was on a hot streak when I worked for him, selling new shows and projects every day. This meant that he was always hiring and always had work for those who'd demonstrated competence and/or loyalty. An awful lot of people broke into the business on Landsburg productions and worked for him for years. I never worked with a happier "family" of employees…and for that alone, I'm now inclined to think well of him. I hope his passing receives the proper respect because he really was as amazing as anything we featured on That's Incredible!

From the E-Mailbag…

Peter Locke and several other folks sent me an observation. Here's Peter…

A month or two ago I noticed at the beginning of Colbert, the taped intro everyday with the eagle, etc., there was a number that had been added and that counted down. For example if it was 81 on Monday, it would be 80 on Tuesday etc. I'm trying to find a screen shot the intro that shows the number, but not having luck at the Comedy Central website.

I did a little math in my head and divided the number by 4 shows a week and deducted the numerous weeks (deserved) they have for vacation, and it seemed like it was counting down the number of new shows left. Then in July or August, the numbers stopped appearing. That makes me wonder if there will new episodes into 2015.

Makes me think it's at least being discussed, though I don't think it's likely. It may depend on when The Minority Report with Larry Wilmore will be ready to air. If I were at Comedy Central, I'd be intrigued by the idea of extending Colbert's run for a bit and airing a ninety-minute block of The Daily Show, The Minority Report and The Colbert Report — preferably in that order. That may be too expensive, to say nothing of the fact that they have a rather successful show on at Midnight. It's called @Midnight.

Michael Hoey, R.I.P.

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That's my pal Michael Hoey on the left, posing with actress Michele Carey and some guy named Elvis Something on the set of Live A Little, Love A Little. Michael wrote that movie and one other for Mr. Presley, and he wrote, produced, directed and/or edited many other motion pictures and television shows in a very long, successful career.

He was born in London in 1934, the son of English actor Dennis Hoey, who played the clueless Inspector Lestrade in the Sherlock Holmes pictures which starred Basil Rathbone in the title role. That was how his family happened to move to Hollywood and there, he broke into the business as a film editor, cutting for — among many other famous directors — George Cukor, John Ford and Fred Zinnemann. From there, it was on to producing and writing and directing and he didn't stop working for the longest time. Late in his career, he went back to editing for the TV series, Fame, and scored two Emmy nominations for that work.

I met Michael when we were on a Writers Guild strike. I forget which one…there have been so many. But we were on a planning committee together and we wound up becoming friends and lunching together after the strike, discussing a mutual project that, alas, never happened. I forget if it was because he got too busy with work or I did but for me, the project was secondary to hanging out with Mike and hearing of his experiences. He'd worked with everyone. He knew everybody. He knew everything there was to know about putting together a movie or a television show.

Michael died last Sunday of cancer at the age of 79. He was a good man with a great sense of humor.

From the E-Mailbag…

Regarding the Comedy Store lineup photo I posted, Douglas McEwan writes…

Mark, I spent two and a half years of my life as an employee of The Comedy Store, being a doorman and emcee, during its golden years. I can assure you that neither Robin Williams, nor anyone else, went on at 2 AM. (Especially not on a Tuesday, when the club would be deserted by 1 AM or 1:30 AM at the latest.)

The Comedy Store has a liquor license to protect, and they are closed at 2 AM. Oh, there may be comics inside after 2AM, hanging out, doing drugs, partying, or there may not (Because if the doormen wanted to go home, it was "Everybody out!"), but the doors are locked and the public is gone. The unfortunate framing of the photo makes it look like Robin went on at 2, but he was actually going on at Midnight.

My good friend, the late Charlie Hill, was batting clean up, and everyone would be done and gone most usually by 1:30 AM at the latest. Tuesdays, as it happens were my emceeing night, and we were home or somewhere else partying by 2 AM.

Incidentally, those hand-written line-ups were called "Mae Wests." I do not remember why. I used to have a"Mae West" for an evening when I was the emcee, my comedy troupe was on the bill, as was Robin Williams, framed on my living room wall. (This was 30 years ago. I don't still have it.) Never ever was The Comedy Store still open and putting comics onstage at 2 AM. The bar was a huge part of their income, and Mitzi would never have risked her liquor license.

Thanks. It was a trip to see that Mae West. I knew every person on that line-up.

You're right, Doug. Maybe because I don't drink, I forgot about the liquor license.

I do recall being there well after 2 AM some nights but probably not in the club after that time. I do remember hanging out in the parking lot, being uncomfy with the occasional drug deal going on around me…and down the street at Carney's Hamburgers, which was then open 24 hours on the weekend and seemed like the commissary for the Comedy Store. If Carney's was closed, a bunch of us would caravan down to Canter's Delicatessen. I only did that a few times and now regret I didn't make it up there more often and sooner.

David Letterman remembered those days last night on his show as he remembered Robin Williams…

The Late Night Report

I've had a lot of requests to run down where we currently are with all this…

Craig Ferguson's new quiz show, Celebrity Name Game, starts next month. He leaves The Late, Late Show in December and sources are saying he's lined up a half-hour weeknight show that Tribune-Media will syndicate to run at 7 PM each evening.

The half-hour strikes me as odd. I could understand an hour but not a half-hour. One of the problems I think his 12:30 show on CBS had — and one of the reasons I went from being a huge fan and a steady-watcher to watching him occasionally — is that I thought the show got to be Too Much Craig. This is the kind of thing that lessened my interest in TiVoing Dave and Conan and certain other talk show hosts before them.

It's like at some point, something in their brain said to them, "Stop worrying about keeping the show tight, dump that well-written prepared material and stall bringing your guests out. What America wants is to see you just rambling and screwing around and ad-libbing and making funny faces." In Conan's and Craig's case, it also included dancing and doing funny voices and in all three, talking a lot during the interviews and competing with the guests for laughs.

I still think Mr. Ferguson is one of the most talented guys to ever work that format. I just think though that his show has gotten to be too much about him. If his new show isn't, it might do quite well. If it's like the first half hour of his Late, Late Show, probably not.

Two weeks ago, many a website reported that it was a done deal that his replacement on CBS would be a British chap named James Corden. No formal announcement has been made and Bill Carter of the New York Times hasn't reported it. I don't think he's even mentioned the rumor. That leads me to suspect that while it may turn out to be Mr. Corden, it isn't or wasn't as much of a done deal as the reports made it out to be. Since they're not just replacing the host but the entire creative team (producers, writers, etc.), they don't have a lot of time. If Corden had been signed two weeks ago, Carter would have long since announced that.

In the meantime, Mr. Fallon and Mr. Meyers continue to kill in their respective time slots. Seth Meyers has been getting better ratings at 12:35 AM on NBC than David Letterman has been getting at 11:35 PM on CBS. Nevertheless, everyone expects that Dave's last few months on CBS will be a ratings monster as he has on every superstar in the business for their farewell visits. I don't see that anyone is certain yet when those last few months will be.

I predicted here that Letterman would leave at the end of February sweeps and that Stephen Colbert would start on the first Monday following Dave's last broadcast. That would have meant Colbert could not do his show from the Ed Sullivan Theater like Dave, at least at first. There wouldn't be time for Dave's staff to move out, for Stephen's to move in, for the set to be redone, for Colbert to do test shows, etc. Well, it looks like all that is wrong…but I'll stick with my belief that CBS wanted most of it to go like that.

It's now looking like Dave will stay on through the May sweeps as Johnny did. And since Colbert's going to do his show from the Ed, that means a period of several months when neither show will be on CBS at 12:35. What will? Beats me. I think 10-12 weeks of Letterman reruns would get about the same viewership as the YouTube videos I embed here. I thought maybe they'd move the 12:35 host — whoever it turns out to be — up for a time but probably not. That would look like they were auditioning Colbert's replacement even before his show started.

So I have no idea what's going to go in there to bridge the gap. I wonder if anyone at CBS does.

Colbert's supposed to do his last show on Comedy Central just before this year's Christmas break. I'm curious as to whether they picked that date because they figured he'd start on CBS in March…and now regret that decision because it's looking like he won't start The Late Show until late August or early September.

Makes you wonder if extending on Comedy Central is an option. Colbert is reportedly taking most of his creative staff with him and I don't think anyone wants to lay them off…or pay them for six months of not doing a show. If he doesn't extend on Comedy Central and they do pay all those folks 'til he starts on CBS, he'll probably start there with an unprecedented supply of prepared material and pre-recorded bits.

In the meantime, Jay Leno is working at something resembling a human rate, doing his web series and flying around to stand-up gigs. He recently downed a 24-ounce Fatburger in five minutes and did a spot for Last Comic Standing. He'll probably turn up as a guest with Dave one of these nights — a night when Seth Meyers won't get higher numbers.

Jimmy Kimmel's show remains steady. I keep giving it a try and coming to the conclusion that it's a well-produced, well-written show starring a guy I can't stand to watch. He can probably stay on forever without my viewership. Mr. Fallon and Mr. Meyers also do well-produced, well-written shows that don't much interest me despite the fact that I like both of them.

I don't expect to feel that way about Colbert and I hope whoever follows him is really terrific. I kinda miss not having a late night program — not counting The Daily Show or Colbert's current one — that I want to watch every night.

Lineup O' Laughs

Click above to see the whole photo.

Click above to see the whole photo.

I have written here before about a golden period up at the Comedy Store on Sunset Boulevard and in a few other venues in the seventies. This photo, source unknown, is making the rounds of sites where stand-ups hang out. It's the posted schedule at the Comedy Store for some evening in 1976 or 1977. As you can see, it's full of a lot of folks who later went on to great stardom…and a few of the folks there you never heard of were pretty darned good, too. (The photo, by the way, partially obscures the names of Tony DeLia and the comedy team of Roger and Roger.)

The program is remarkable. So is the fact that there may well have been others that evening. If Richard Pryor or Freddie Prinze or someone like that had shown up and said "I want to go on," they would have gone on and other comics would have been bumped accordingly.

And maybe the most remarkable thing is that this was for a Tuesday. The Saturday night lineups at this time couldn't have been much better…but they were probably better. And there's Robin Williams going on at two ayem…

Don Pardo, R.I.P.

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There have been very few well-known announcers and usually, it's because the person became an on-camera personality like Gary Owens, Johnny Olson or Alan Kalter. Don Pardo did it the hard way: In front of the microphone, not the camera.

He was the superstar of a show business profession that doesn't exist much these days: The staff booth announcer. We all know about him announcing game shows like Jeopardy! We all know about him announcing Saturday Night Live. But he was also a guy who worked for NBC forever, doing thousands and thousands of promos and news bulletins and commercial spots and anything else that needed a professional voice.

He announced on SNL for 38 seasons, missing only Season 7. What happened there happened after Lorne Michaels had left the show and no one knew he'd be coming back. SNL was groping for a new relevancy with a series of new casts and creative teams. That season, they brought back Michael O'Donoghue, who'd been one of the main writers on the first five seasons. O'Donoghue was full of ideas about how to shake up the show and make if different and dangerous.

One was to dump Pardo. In fact, O'Donoghue wanted to fire Don on the air, for real, with no advance warning. He didn't get to do that but he did persuade the folks above him that the show needed a new sound…and that year, Saturday Night Live was announced by Mel Brandt or Bill Hanrahan. The next season, O'Donoghue was gone and Pardo was back…to stay.

I started to write, "Saturday Night Live won't be the same without Don Pardo"…but that show hasn't been the same for a long time. So I'll just close by saying Don Pardo had a helluva career. He did what he did as well as anyone has done it.

Robin, Remembered

Penny Marshall remembers Robin Williams.

Recommended Reading

I linked to an article that said the charges against Rick Perry were very flimsy. Here's a link to an article that argues otherwise. One of these guys is right.

Today's Video Link

On a sillier note…