Monday, December 20, 2004


As a child I always looked forward to all the Holiday Specials like "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" (Celebrating its 40th anniversary this year), "The Year Without a Santa Claus", "Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town", "The Little Drummer Boy", "Frosty the Snowman", "A Charlie Brown Christmas" and "Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas". These shows were all mandatory family viewing in our house. After the show we as a family discussed what we learned. "The Little Drummer Boy" taught us that a gift does not have to be a tangible object. The Grinch taught us "Maybe Christmas, he thought, doesn't come from a store. Maybe Christmas...perhaps...means a little bit more!" Charlie Brown taught us what Christmas is all about from a Biblical perspective. And Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer taught us not to discriminate against someone who is different, because you may want to exploit that person's abnormality for your own personal gain. Speaking of Santa, did he have an eating disorder? His codependent wife kept saying, "Eat, Poppa, eat. You're gonna disappoint the children. They expect a fat Santa". And when did Mrs. Claus become an Italian mother? According to Rankin & Bass, Santa had a different wife with every story. And not only was Rudolph's father (Donner) ashamed of his son for being different, he was also a chauvinistic pig telling his wife that a woman's place was in the cave. If I was Rudolph when Santa came to me on that foggy Christmas Eve saying, "Rudolph, with your nose so bright, wont you guide my sleigh tonight?" I would have told everyone at the North Pole to go screw themselves and gone to work for PeTA.

As an adult I would hear something about a controversy associated with one of these holiday specials. Usually the controversy would involve some of the things I just joked about. A character was perpetuating a negative stereotype. A negative story line (You kind of need the negative part in order to get to the moral of the story) or that the story was no longer Politically Correct. Strangely enough, I have never heard anyone complain about the religious theme in "A Charlie Brown Christmas". I can't help but to think that parents aren’t watching these shows with their kids and talking about them afterwards. Instead they would prefer more low maintenance or watered down stories with no lessons to be learned. These shows were meant to be family viewing not to be used as a babysitter. I understand that things are different now with both parents working, but then again we now also have VCRs and DVD players so you are not limited to network scheduling.

Finally, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. The people who grew up with these holiday specials have paid homage to these great shows. SNL's Robert Smigel honored A Charlie Brown Christmas on his TV Funhouse. MAD TV honored Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer with Raging Rudolph. And Office Max honors Rankin & Bass in their latest commercial featuring the Rubber Band Man.

To quote Linus Van Pelt (and the Gospel according to Luke - Chapter 2:8-14) from A Charlie Brown Christmas, "And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the lord shone round about them, and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not, for behold, I bring unto you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you this day is born in the City of Bethlehem, a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; you shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel, a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest, and on Earth peace, good will toward men'". That's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown".

Stay Tuned and Merry Christmas

Tony Figueroa

Friday, December 17, 2004

Where’s Norman Lear now that we need him?

"I wish that life came with a laugh track. That way people who can't see how funny life really is can at least pretend they get it."
Tony Figueroa
We are the only country in the world that uses laugh tracks on comedy shows when they are not filmed in front of a live audience. It seems like it's done just so the stupid people won't feel bad, or dare I say, stupid when they don't get the joke.
I have a friend whom once missed pronounced "Sit-Com" by adding an "H". He paused when he realized what he just said, and responded with, "You know what? Freud once said, there are no accidents".
The fate of the Sit-Com is uncertain. This is sad, painful, and concerning to me.
Sad, because my goal in life is to write, produce and star in my own sit-com.
Painful because most of the sitcoms that we have left are just bad. It's painful to even watch them. No new ideas, bad acting, and bad writing. Instead of a plot they string together a bunch of sexual innuendoes and call it "sophisticated". That's not a sit-com. That's a burlesque show.
For example, the girl with the large breasts is dumb and the girl with the small breasts is smart. But the girl with the small breasts is still jealous of the girl with the large breasts because she has large breasts. I guess that's more sophisticated than what we did in the old days when the blond was dumb and the brunette was smart. Or we see, Enter smart black guy. He greets stupid white guy. Within a few seconds we hear, "You know, some of my best friends are black".
All of this concerns me, so I have to ask, "Where are today’s Norman Lears, Larry Gelbarts and Susan Harriss? People who used comedy to talk about war, prejudice, and the issues of the day". Now don't shout out your answers, it’s a rhetorical question. I know where they are. They're telling stories in coffeehouses. They're making underground comedy albums that make fun of the current administration. They're in 99 seat houses doing controversial plays. They’re everywhere just not on TV. Why? Some say that it’s the dumming down of the TV viewer who would rather see a bikini clad girl in a tank filled with electric eels or a guy eating goat testicles than something that requires them to think. In the process, this puts talented actors and writers out of work. Others feel that in this current political climate anything topical especially when it is mocking or criticizing the current administration is considered dissent, treasonous or just down right Un-American. We can debate this forever, but the third and most practical reason is that this is a business and topical sit-coms do not do well in syndication where the money is.
On a very personal note: After 9/11 I kept hearing all these great singers sing "God Bless America". Then something in my "Child of Television" mind clicked while watching the memorial service at the National Cathedral in Washington D.C. I remembered a few months prior to the attacks, Carroll O'Connor, who created the role of Archie Bunker in All in the Family, had died. In all the television tributes to Mr. O’Connor one scene was shown repeatedly. The scene from "All in the Family" where Archie sings "God Bless America". So while this mezzo-soprano sang her beautiful rendition of "God Bless America", in the back of my head I heard Archie Bunker singing, "God bless America you dumb Pollack!" And I had my first laugh since the tragedy. It started as a snicker. Then I actually looked around my living room as if I was in church to make sure no one saw me laugh. The absurdity of the situation caused me to laugh louder. All of a sudden, during a very solemn occasion I became Mary Richards at Chuckles the Clown’s funeral.
Thank you Norman Lear and God Bless Carroll O'Connor.
To quote David Hyde Pierce in his Emmy acceptance speech, "I heard that the sit-com as we know it is changing. When it changes back, please call me".
Stay Tuned
Tony Figueroa

Friday, December 10, 2004

If it wasn't for bad news, I wouldn't have any news at all.

When I was a kid in the late 60s living at my grandparent’s house in Defiance Ohio, every day started with the "Today" show. The show then featured Hugh Downs, Barbara Walters, Joe Garagiola and Frank Blair. I was to young to understand the issues of the day, I just remember that The show always opened with "Good Morning", and "Welcome". Hugh Downs, Barbara Walters and especially Joe Garagiola would be upbeat. Then they would cut to Frank Blair with the news. I thought that this guy was kind of a downer. He would bum us out with footage of the war in Vietnam and riots at home. He really brought the party down. Then I turned six and realized that what he said was important, even if I didn’t really understand it.

I have noticed lately when people have been asked to comment on a current event they respond with, "Oh, I don't watch the news. It's so negative". Forgive my cynicism, but my first impression with some of the people who make that comment is that they are using a moral high ground to mask disinterest, ignorance, or apathy to that current event. I can’t help but to think that years and years of disinterest, ignorance, and apathy to current events has brought us to the place where we are now in the world. Yes we all get tired of the "If it bleeds, it leads" style of many news programs, but it still works. The Scott Peterson case had absolutely no journalistic merit whatsoever, yet it was turned into a reality mini-series. Just because the news is bad does not always mean that it’s negative. For example, "More soldiers dead in Iraq" is bad news. "Something in your kitchen can kill you. Details at eleven." is negative news. By the way how do put a positive spin on a war? Other than, "It’s over", or "We won".

In the time between waking up and the time I pour my first cup of coffee, I am in a state of practical cynicism. When I turn on the morning news. I want to know what happened overnight, the weather forecast and the traffic report/freeway conditions. In other words, is it worth getting out of bed today? Instead all I see is another report about Janet Jackson showing one part of her anatomy to a large audience, while her brother Michael is showing another part of his anatomy to a smaller audience. Then Martha Stewart goes to jail, Bill O' Riley is accused of sexual harassment, Ashlee Simpson was lip-synching and Julia Roberts had twins. Most of these stories are entertainment stories and we already have several shows and a whole cable channel dedicated to entertainment news. When I want real entertainment news, I read "The Hollywood Reporter" and "Daily Variety". I also see stories about wedding planning, makeovers and barbecuing a tri-tip. We have other venues for all of this too.

TV news has turned into a Las Vegas style buffet of stories. We have a large variety of stories served up quickly. Instead of us watching the news to be informed on what is happening in the world, we now have a menu from where we can choose whatever news we want to watch. If you don’t like one brand of news, you can pick one that you do like. Fox News caters to those who find other media outlets to liberal (by the way I believe that the media is only as liberal as the corporations who own it). CBN presents the news from a Christian perspective. It’s the only news show where you can see an act of God, hear why God did what he did then find out what you need to do so he doesn’t do it again. Many feel that the BBC’s news coverage is less slanted than their American counterparts. Others get their news from late-night comedians, especially "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" because they feel that the best form of comedy is based in truth. The show has managed through comedy to ask questions of the newsmakers (and the news media) that are on the viewer’s minds, but aren’t being asked on the "real" news shows.

After 9/11 we asked, "who", "how" and "why"? Maybe if we weren’t being fed a steady diet of O.J. & Monica we would have known.

To quote Jon Stewart on CNN’s CROSSFIRE, "You're on CNN. The show that leads into me is puppets making crank phone calls."

Stay Tuned

Tony Figueroa

Saturday, December 04, 2004

“Desperate Housewives” is more than just the name of a TV show.

With all the problems we have in the world the least of them should be a TV show, but the real life Desperate Housewives are on a media crusade. At the time I’m writing this, "Desperate Housewives" is the #1 show in the ratings. I also understand that the show is doing just as well in the Red states as it does in the Blue states. I can’t help to think that if this show weren’t doing so well, people would leave it alone to die like so many other new shows that debut every fall. This fall CBS debuted "Clubhouse" a show that was well acted, well written and full of family values. It only lasted a few weeks. ABC took a big risk putting this show on the air, and the risk paid off. "Desperate Housewives" is new and different. I for one find it refreshing to see talented actors and writers working, rather than seeing a guy eating goat testicles for our entertainment.

One of the big complaints I keep hearing is that the show mocks motherhood. This sounds very familiar to former Vice-President Dan Quayle saying that Murphy Brown having a child out of wedlock mocks Fatherhood. That incident also took place in an election year. Coincidence? If anything the show mocks the suburban ideal along with movies, very much like this summer’s "The Stepford Wives". People enjoy seeing someone throw a pie in the face of suburbia. After many people grew up with TV telling them that shows like "Leave it to Beaver" presents an American ideal making many American kids feel less then normal if their home life did not match up the TV families of the day. After all isn’t the main issue with "D.H." the corruption of our children? Well first, the show has a TV PG rating. You have a TV rating system and the "V" chip. Use it. Second, to the issue of morals, "D.H." shows the characters repercussions for their actions, just not in the course of one episode. For example, Lynette (Felicity Huffman) eventually did pay the price for her addiction to the twins' ADD medication. Let’s also look at her moral decision not to medicate her overactive kids. This reminds me of another parental complaint. Television makes kids think that their problems could be resolved in half an hour or in this case an hour. "D.H." shows how ones bad behavior can escalate over time. Just because bad behavior is shown on TV does not mean that TV is glamorizing the bad behavior. Speaking of "glamour", I am surprised that more American women aren’t celebrating the fact that with the exception of one of the women on the show (Eva Longoria) the rest of the women have past the big 4-0 and are still depicted as attractive and sexy. I thought that this was a big grievance that women had with Hollywood, even though now I hear that 40 is the new 30. Finally, don’t forget that it took just one real life Desperate Housewife in Michigan to make "Married with Children" the success it was.

To quote William Shatner on SNL, "It’s just a TV show! It’s just a TV show!"
I think I’m gonna use that quote a lot.

Stay Tuned

Tony Figueroa

Queer Eyes are seeing Red. (Click PODCAST)

Knowing that I live in a blue state and work in the entertainment industry, one might conclude that I tend to lean to the left politically and socially. You would be correct. Growing up in L.A. I knew that certain celebrities were gay and assumed that the rest of the country knew it as well, only to be stunned over the scandal created after that celebrity came out. Especially Liberace. Come on, how could you not know? But I’d like to make a pragmatic observation. I, like many of my friends, both gay and straight, were surprised to hear that on election day voters in 11 states (Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Ohio, Utah and Oregon) approved constitutional amendments limiting marriage to a man and a woman. When you look at the ratings for shows like "Will and Grace", "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" and to a smaller extent "The L Word", "Queer as Folk" and "Six Feet Under", one would think that our collective tolerances have evolved over the last few years.

Some conservatives will blame the "Liberal Media" (by the way I believe that the media is only as liberal as the corporations who own it) for undermining family values by presenting an immoral life style as acceptable. Well, somebody was watching these shows and I tend to believe the Nielsen TV Ratings more than I believe the pollsters. Is it morality or hypocrisy when people are in essence saying, "Sure I like seeing them on TV, but I don’t want them getting married and moving into my neighborhood".
There have been times when I’ve used the word "Homophobic" to describe people’s behavior, only to hear in response, "I don’t like that word". Hey, I don’t like "Couch Potato" but if the shoe fits...

Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionary defines homophobia: ho·mo·pho·bia
Function: noun: irrational fear of, aversion to, or discrimination against homosexuality or homosexuals

There is a fear that same-sex unions will weaken the institution marriage (would someone please tell me how?). People have used the so-called liberal media to scare citizens with stock footage of the most outrageous moments from Gay Pride parades and say, "This can happen in our town". Instead of trying to find ways to overcome their fear, they just prefer that I just not to use the word "Homophobic" in describing them. Fine, I’ll stop using the word "Homophobic" when you stop using the word... Actually there are several words and I don’t want to dignify them in this column.
Let us all live by The Golden Rule "Do onto others as you would wish them do onto you."
To quote Jerry Sienfeld, "Not that there's anything wrong with that".

Stay Tuned

Tony Figueroa

Thursday, December 02, 2004

“The Pre-ramble” (Click PODCAST)

I am a child of television. I represent the first generation whom, when we were born, the television was now a permanent fixture in our homes. When I was born people had breakfast with Barbara Walters, dinner with Walter Cronkite, and slept with Johnny Carson. With that being said, no, television did not make me believe that all problems can be solved in 30 minutes. I never thought that “Leave it to Beaver” presented a realistic look on life. But “Three’s Company” did make me believe that you could rent a 2-bedroom apartment in Santa Monica for $300.00 a month. I wish that life came with a laugh track. That way people who can’t see how funny life really is can at least pretend they get it.

I have noticed that an electronic piece of furniture has entered our sphere of influence more so than any other medium, but let me get one thing straight, I am not a couch potato, I am a Television Aficionado American. I am a comedian, writer and actor. I read books, and not just the ones that Oprah tells me to. I am happily married and am a productive member of society. I live in Hollywood, California and am tired of members of my community being described as amoral and trying to undermine the fabric of the American family.

As a child I was warned that when I grow up I’ll be at parties and people will be talking about things that are happening in the world and all I will be able to talk about is TV. Well today at parties I’m the one who wants to talk about things that are happening in the world and everyone else wants to talk about TV.

My purpose for writing this column is not to be a TV critic, although at times I can and will be very critical of the medium and it’s viewers. I hope through this column I can illustrate how real life influences TV and how TV influences real life and while doing so incorporating some observations and personal stories.

To quote Walter Cronkite, "That’s the way it is".

Stay Tuned

Tony Figueroa