Saturday, December 24, 2005


As a child I always looked forward to all the Holiday Specials like Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer, The Year Without a Santa Claus, Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town, The Little Drummer Boy , Frosty the Snowman, A Charlie Brown Christmas (Celebrating its 40th anniversary this year) and 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, 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 everyone having a TV in their own room or 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. Saturday Night Live's Robert Smigel honored A Charlie Brown Christmas on his TV Funhouse. MAD TV honored Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer with Raging Rudolph. And last year Office Max honors the Rankin & Bass specials in their 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, "Lights, please. (A spotlight shines on Linus.) 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

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

My Honorable Mention additions to "TV Guide and TV Land presents The 100 Most Unexpected TV Moments".

TV Guide and TV Land did a comprehensive series that focused on the 100 Most Unexpected TV Moments. Once again, whenever I see one of these lists I, like I’m sure many others played Monday morning quarterback and noticed what didn’t make the list.Again I suggest for future lists that there should be a distinction between entertainment produced for television and events that were captured on television. I also don't think the entire series run of Hogan's Heroes (#100) and The Flying Nun (92) should count as a moment. Here is my list of Unexpected TV Moments that I think should have made the Top 100. Please note that some entries also appeared in My Honorable Mention additions to "TV Guide and TV Land presents The 100 Most Memorable TV Moments".

Murphy Brown’s baby (May 18, 1992) Murphy Brown. Never before or since has a TV show influenced presidential politics. What was unexpected was the country’s reaction to Vice President Dan Quayle’s comments about the episode.

Jack Paar walks off the Tonight Show (February 11, 1960). The previous night, Paar had told a joke during his monologue with the word "water closets" in it. The joke offended the NBC censors, who cut it out of the show. How times have changed.

Maude has an abortion (November 14,1972) from Maude. Some CBS affiliates did not air the episode. Note: This episode aired a year prior to the Supreme Court's Row vs. Wade decision.

Fonzie cries in an episode of Happy Days (January 31, 1978). Richie is involved in an accident with his new motorcycle and is in a coma at the hospital. Fonzie enters the room and breaks down while talking to him. This episode was written when Gary Marshall received a letter from a woman who worked with abused children telling him how the children connected with Fonzie. As part of their therapy the kids needed to cry but didn’t because the Fonz didn’t cry. Fonzie showed us all that it is okay to cry.

David Letterman’s post 9/11 show (September 17, 2001) from The Late Show with David Letterman. Dave let America know that it was okay to laugh again. This episode should make the list since no one knew what to expect.

Footage of a woman giving birth (November 1967) on Donahue.

The "F" word on Saturday Night Live.
(February 21, 1981) The Guest host was Charlene Tilton (Dallas) and there was a running "who shot J.R. Ewing" gag with Charles Rocket called "who shot C.R.". At the end of the show Tilton was on stage with Rocket. She asked how he felt. Rocket said, "Oh man, it's the first time I've been shot in my life. I'd like to know who the f**k did it."
(March 15, 1980) Paul Shaffer accidentally mumbled "f**kin'" instead of "floggin'" during a sketch. Paul’s reaction to what came out of his mouth was priceless.

Tonight Show host Johnny Carson crashes the set of the series C.P.O. Sharkey after he discovers that that the shows star Don Rickles smashed his cigarette box, while guest hosting for Johnny.

Archie Bunker changes baby Joey’s diaper (January 12, 1976) from All in the Family. The show had (baby) frontal nudity. To commemorate the birth of baby Joey a doll was manufactured by Ideal Toys Corp. The Joey doll was the first anatomically correct male doll to be made and sold in America.

Rosalind Shays (Diana Muldaur) steps in elevator falls down the open shaft on L.A.LAW (March 21, 1991).

This weeks quote could also count as an Unexpected TV Moment.
William Shatner on SNL, "I'd just like to say... GET A LIFE, will you people? I mean, for crying out loud, it's just a TV show!"

Stay Tuned

Tony Figueroa

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Richard Pryor, Your Life Is Calling.

Richard Pryor
1940 - 2005

Anybody who is remotely interested in a career in stand-up comedy needs to study the complete works of Richard Pryor. He spun his own life’s tragedies into comedic gold. I was fortunate early on in my comedy career to meet Mr. Pryor and watch him perform live at the Comedy Store. Even after he became ill he continued to perform on a regular basis. I am very optimistic that Richard Pryor will be remembered for his unique comedic voice and not for his use of obscenities.

When looking for a Richard Pryor quote, the first one that popped into my head was from the December 13th, 1975 episode of Saturday Night Live titled: Racist Word Association Interview, "Dead honky!"
SNL Transcripts: Richard Pryor: 12/13/75: Racist Word Association Interview

Good Night Mr. Pryor and thank you for teaching us that comedy is truly tragedy plus time.

Stay Tuned

Tony Figueroa

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Peace on Earth. (Click PODCAST)

Recently in an article Happy 40th Anniversary Charlie Brown. I quoted Linus Van Pelt reading from Luke 2:8-14 in A Charlie Brown Christmas.

Charlie Brown: (shouting in desperation) Isn't there anyone out there who can tell me what Christmas is all about?

Linus Van Pelt: Lights, please. (A spotlight shines on Linus.) 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.

I also pointed out that the network had concerns about the religious message but in the past forty years I have never heard anyone complain that the show was too religious. I think I know why. Charles M. Schulz told us a story that featured Christmas elements from his childhood growing up in the Midwest including snow and a religious celebration of the holiday. Putting aside the fact that in the world of Peanuts children speak like little adults. There is an honesty in this special. Part of it comes from the fact that Linus is voiced by a real child (Christopher Shea) but Linus is also telling a story not selling a religion. Even if we all don't believe the part about "a Savior, which is Christ the Lord", we all should be able to get behind the idea of "on Earth peace, good will toward men".

Speaking of Peace on Earth.

I wrote an article titled Confessions of a Toon Head.. In that article I mentioned that The Cartoon Network showed Peace on Earth (1939) on the Christmas episode of Toonheads. I described this cartoon as the supporting cast of Bambi (1942) in a scene from All Quiet on the Western Front (1930). The story opens with two baby squirrels asking their grandfather, "What are men?" when he comes in singing "Peace on earth, good will to men". Their Grandpa tells them that there are no men anymore and describes them as violent critters who kept finding new reasons to fight. One example he gave was the vegetarian people fighting with the meat-eating people. Grandpa then tells the kids the story of man's last war with graphic detail.

After the last two men die, all the animals gather in a bombed out church. The wise old owl reads "Thou shalt not kill" from a big book of rules (The Bible).

Then the animals begin to rebuild from their wastes.

Thc part about men who kept finding new reasons to fight reminds me of a fight I have been seeing waged on TV in the past week. The Bill O'Reillys and John Gibsons of the world are fighting over what we call at pine tree. Media Matters - Fox betrays Christmas crusade, sells "Holiday" ornaments for your "Holiday tree". These broadcasting hypocrites report on a Liberal Plot to take Christ out of the holiday. As I sit in a Studio City (a few miles north of crazy liberal Hollywood) Starbucks writing this piece and drinking my venti cup of Christmas Blend, I am listening to a beautiful operatic rendition of Oh Holy Night over the speakers, and guess what? The ACLU did not bust down the door demanding that Starbucks replace the song with one about Rudolph or Frosty. As I said in My "HOLLYWOOD" Civic Pride, I live in Hollywood. I live two blocks from the Hollywood Christmas Parade. Last week I watched The Hollywood Christmas Spectacular on TV and heard a live Gospel Choir when I was walking down Universal City Walk. Leave us liberals out of this fight that is obviously between social conservatives protecting their religious holiday and the fiscal conservatives wanting to expand their bottom line. This Christmas/Holiday Season we are looking back over a year filled with the devastation of war and natural disaster that can kill ones Christmas/Holiday spirit. This is what we should be talking about instead of trees, songs or greetings. But I guess I have to be the grown up here, and it's a sorry state of affairs when I have to be the grown up. It’s called a Christmas Tree, a Hanukkah Dradle. Hallmark carries a wide variety of holiday cards, and on Black Friday people beat the holy crap out of each other fighting over the last Xbox. (Now for those who want to attack my beliefs read Must See Sabbath and then comment). Where is the "Peace on Earth and the good will toward men"? That should be the message of the season and throughout the year.

To quote Jay Leno, "The Supreme Court has ruled that they cannot have a nativity scene in Washington, D.C. This wasn't for any religious reasons. They couldn't find three wise men and a virgin".

Stay Tuned

Tony Figueroa

Friday, December 02, 2005

Supporting the Supporting Actor

There is a common misperception that a supporting actor is less important than the star. This week we lost two great character actors who although you might not know their names their contribution to the shows they worked on were invaluable.

This classically trained actor was a veteran of numerous TV shows and movies, but to me he was best known for the role of investigative reporter Jack McGee in the TV series The Incredible Hulk. You may remember this quote from the show’s opening, "The creature is driven by rage and pursued by an investigative reporter. Mr. McGee... don't make me angry... you wouldn't like me when I'm angry".

As a kid I was a devoted fan of the show, but I saw the character of Jack McGee as just the bad guy. As an adult I enjoyed the show again in reruns on SCIFI and really saw what Jack Colvin brought to the character of McGee. Here was a brilliant reporter who now was down on his luck working at a tabloid (The National Register). He knew that the HULK story would put him at the top of his profession again and became obsessed like Capt. Ahab. Instead of hunting the great white whale, he wanted to expose the big green man. I found myself not wanting him to succeed in finding the Hulk for the sake of the Hulk (Lou Ferrigno) and Dr. Banner (Bill Bixby). At the same time I cared for McGee because unlike Ahab his quest was not a personal vendetta, he just wanted to be respected in his field again. That is a lot of support to give to the star.
Good Night Jack, You finally got your story.

This Actor is probably best known from her role as Amy in Bosom Buddies although I also loved her work in the short lived FOX sitcom Women in Prison as well. Ms. Sperber’s greatest role was as the founder of weSPARK. In 1997 Wendie Jo was diagnosed with breast cancer and found that battling the decease was as much an emotional fight as it was a physical one. In 2001 she opened weSPARK as a place to meet new friends, to exchange information, to explore new ways of coping and new possibilities for healing. weSPARK - Where all services are free of charge.

To quote Wendie Jo Sperber, "I spent many years with low self-esteem, but the cancer has given me the gift of seeing how many people love me."

Don’t forget without the supporting actors the stars would be doing one man shows.

Stay Tuned

Tony Figueroa

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Happy 40th Anniversary Charlie Brown. (Click PODCAST)

A Charlie Brown Christmas

This Tuesday, December 6th ABC will air A Charlie Brown Christmas marking its 40th anniversary on television. I don’t think that we children of television fully appreciate the influence this holiday classic (I don’t use the word classic lightly) has on our popular culture. If someone, said "that looks like Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree" you don’t need any explanation. If you hear Vince Guaraldi’s Linus And Lucy someone will mimic the dance moves of one or more of the characters. The only part that of the cartoon that is dated is when Lucy sends Charlie Brown out to get an aluminum tree.

Lucy Van Pelt: Get the biggest aluminum tree you can find, Charlie Brown, maybe painted pink.

It is hard to believe that this holiday special that has been airing all of my life was not liked by the brass at CBS, but remember these are the same people who thought that Gilligan's Island might be too highbrow. The network wanted a laugh track, did not like that real children were used to voice the characters (Snoopy was voiced by animator Bill Melendez) and thought the show was too religious (Linus quotes Luke 2:8-14).

Charlie Brown: (shouting in desperation) Isn't there anyone out there who can tell me what Christmas is all about?

Linus Van Pelt: Lights, please. (A spotlight shines on Linus.) 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.

After the show aired CBS ordered four more specials. Who knew? Honestly if Charles M. Schulz & Lee Mendelson went to one of the major networks today with the pitch for A Charlie Brown Christmas I would imagine that the response would be, "So, this is a holiday special for kids where the title character is a boy going through holiday depression. Okay, a bit of a downer isn’t it? And this depression stems from people’s greed and the over commercialism of the holiday. Yeah, kinda hard to sell commercial time when you alienate the potential sponsor who is also counting on that consumer greed. See a good Christmas story has to have someone saving the holiday by helping Santa make his flight. In your story the day is saved thanks to a Bible reading. I don’t get it. How does the birth of the baby Jesus inspire kids to save a tree? The tree was cut down, it’s already dead. Sorry this is not for us, but the guys at PAX will love it".

Stay Tuned

Tony Figueroa

Friday, November 25, 2005

Arnold, It’s time to lock up.

Noriyuki "Pat" Morita
To a generation he was Mr. Miyagi, Daniel-san’s (Ralph Macchio) mentor in the The Karate Kid movies, but to me he will always be Arnold from Happy Days.

As a child Morita suffered from spinal tuberculosis and was told that he would never walk again. Thanks to an operation to fuse four vertebrae he was on his feet only to be sent with his family to a Japanese internment camp in Arizona during World War II. After all this hardship and suffering Pat Morita dedicated his life to making people laugh. After years of stand-up comedy in the early '60s known as "The Hip Nip" and roles in film and television Morita landed his breakthrough role as the 50's drive-in owner Matsuo "Arnold" Takahashi.

I was trying to think of an Arnold quote, but Arnold’s best lines were either in Japanese or sound effects. To quote Pat Morita, "Only in America could you get away with the kind of comedy I did".

Good Night Mr. Morita. I will always remember you as a source of laughter and inspiration.

Stay Tuned

Tony Figueroa

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Good Luck Ted

Ted Koppel

"Trust me, the transition from one anchor to another is not that big a deal," said Koppel. "[Walter] Cronkite begat [Dan] Rather, [John] Chancellor begat [Tom] Brokaw, [Frank] Reynolds begat [Peter] Jennings. And each of them did a pretty fair job in his own right.
"You've always been very nice to me, so give this new anchor team for 'Nightline' a fair break. If you don't, I promise you, the network will just put another comedy show in this time slot,"

Ted Koppel
November 22, 2005

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Ralph Edwards, "This Is Your Life"

Ralph Edwards

Long before people got Punk'd there was Truth or Consequences. Before there was Entertainment Tonight or Biography there was This Is Your Life. These shows were created and hosted (originally for radio) by broadcasting pioneer Ralph Edwards. Ralph Edwards also earned a special place in broadcasting history in 1950 when as a publicity stunt he offered nationwide publicity to any city that would change its name to "Truth or Consequences" In a vote, a majority of the citizens of Hot Springs New Mexico changed their name. Mr. Edwards was also well-known for his extensive charitable and philanthropic activities as well as being one of TV's most prolific producers. On a personal note, my wife Donna had the pleasure of working for Mr. Edwards on The New Truth and Consequences and found him to be a class act.

Good Night Mr. Edwards and enjoy your gala reception in the Blossom Room of the Roosevelt hotel.

Stay Tuned

Tony Figueroa

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Today in TV History

On November 13th Felix Unger was asked to remove himself from his place of residence.
That request came from his wife.

Stay Tuned

Tony Figueroa

Friday, November 11, 2005

The West Wing LIVE (Click PODCAST)

I hate being sick. A few days ago I caught a bug that left me bedridden for a few days. There were times when I barely had the strength to change the channel. Then I would find something interesting to watch like a documentary on the History Channel and I would fall fast asleep. Most of the weekend was spent watching the What's Happening!! marathon on TV Land. So you can imagine I was in need of some intelligent television.

Last Sunday at 8 PM The West Wing aired a live episode. This was a big deal. My wife Donna and I love the excitement of a live TV broadcast. Could something go wrong, be it a human or technical error? At one time all TV was live. I remember seeing live plays being broadcast on network TV. ER did a live show a few years ago, the sitcom Roc did a whole season of live episodes. Today many reality shows like to have live finales.

I have been a fan of The West Wing since the show first aired. I know that my top ten list of reasons why I love the show are the same reasons why other people hate the show. Even with changes in front of and behind the camera the show continues to set a standard of TV excellence. These past two seasons have brought more changes. New characters are coming in and familiar faces will soon be leaving. With the election story line either Congressman Matthew Santos (Jimmy Smits) or Senator Arnold Vinick (Alan Alda) will be the new president (I'm hoping for Santos).

When a show is done well I am willing suspend disbelief. A pro-life Republican candidate? A debate where the candidates throw the rules out the window? Maybe this is something we'd like to see in real world politics.

Vinick: When the greatest hero in the history of my party, Abraham Lincoln, debated, he didn't need any rules, we could junk the rules.

Santos: OK, let's have a real debate.

While Ellen DeGeneres was trying to get me to ruin my credit rating by getting me to sign up for the new American Express One card. I told my wife that I love to see intelligent dialogue over car crashes. She pointed out that other people would be turned off by the show for the same reason. I hope that viewers who share my opinion are in the majority and I think they are. After the fictional election is over and a new fictional president is sworn in, I hope that viewers stay tuned and in a few years we will debate who was the better West Wing president Bartlet (Martin Sheen) or TBD? At the end of the day The West Wing’s greatest legacy will not be it’s Emmys or SAG Awards, but the fact that the show got real people talking about real politics.

I'd like to see The West Wing do another live show soon. Perhaps an election eve show that also features Tim Russert with his dry erase boards.

Stay Tuned

Tony Figueroa

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Happy Anniversary Days of our Lives (Click PODCAST)

My mom was concerned by what she considered an obsession in the way I devoured the TV Guide fall preview issue (This was before TV Guide was an entertainment magazine). Now if I went through the TV Guide with a highlighter, that would be obsessive. But I did my best to see all the new shows every fall and see if they were worth watching. I was firm but fair in my evaluation. I knew better than to judge a show by it's pilot. Even though there were only three networks, this was not an easy thing to do since there were no VCRs. If you were not home when your program was on you missed it. We couldn't go online to find out what happened or pay $1.99 to have the episode downloaded on our iPod. Just like if the phone rang and no one was home, the call went unanswered. Archaic! Mom saw my relationship with TV as an addiction, but did she help me? Did she find a 12-step program? The Betty Ruble Center? No, she exploited what she saw as my addiction.

It’s the summer of 1983, I was home from school but Mom was doing some volunteer work in the afternoons, meaning she would be missing Days of our Lives. So she asked me to watch the show for her, then tell her what happened. Remember there were no VCRs. It seemed simple enough. She’d come home and I’d say, " The guy with the beard has the hots for that girl with the big boobs. Everyone is wondering if this guy I think his name is "Cirano?" is really dead even though he was cremated. Soon it became, "Bo (Peter Reckell) expressed his feelings to Hope (Kristian Alfonso) and Stefano (Joseph Mascolo) faked his death by having some John Doe in the morgue cremated in his place". By the time summer was over and Mom was done with her volunteer work, I was hooked on Days of our Lives.

I never felt insecure in my manhood being a Soap Opera fan because Los Angeles Dodger's manager Tommy Lasorta confessed that he hated away games because it caused him to miss Days of our Lives.

In college I bought my first VCR before I bought my first textbook so I wouldn’t miss the show. While working as a Universal Studios Tour guide I met a coworker who had a recurring part on the show as a nurse. I used the show as an icebreaker. Long story short, I married her. It's a mixed marriage, she's an All My Children fan. Every Wednesday I attend a story telling group in Los Angeles called STORY SALON. One of the storytellers there is an actress named Marsha Clark, who also plays the no nonsense judge, Karen Fitzpatrick on DAYS. I started to talk to her about the show's serial killer story line where half the town was murdered by Dr. Marlena Evens (Deidre Hall). She must have thought this guy is nuts, don’t make eye contact.

It’s 22 years later, Bo still loves Hope and everyone is sure that Stefano is really dead this time. I know better.

When all else fails, blame Mom.

To quote Macdonald Carey (Dr. Tom Horton), "Like sands through the hourglass... so are the Days of our Lives".

Happy 40th, have you had work done?

Stay Tuned

Tony Figueroa

Thursday, October 27, 2005

There are no stupid TV shows PART II Halloween Edition.

Last week I said in my column (There are no stupid TV shows, just.... Okay some are stupid.) That,

"I was reminiscing with friends about our favorite episodes of Gilligan's Island and Get Smart. Then I remembered that many of the adults in my life (not children of television) dismissed the two shows as stupid. Both of these shows were on the air when I was born and have been airing ever since. The wealth of talent in front of and behind the camera has to be a huge contributing factor to a show's longevity. I was able to enjoy both shows in syndication. Both Gilligan's Island (1964-1967) and Get Smart (1965-1970) were on when I came home from school. These were shows that I enjoyed on one level then and on a different level now."

I realized that I had made similar statements about other classic TV sitcoms. In the spirit of Halloween I wanted to revisit some of the comments I made about some macabre shows. In Not a Black and White Issue. I mentioned that,

"Samantha & Darrin Stephens were the first mixed married couple on a television show Bewitched to actually discuss their differences. The show featured a witch (Elizabeth Montgomery) who married a mortal (Dick York & Dick Sargent). Underneath the mother in law jokes, nosey neighbors and special effects, serious issues like prejudice, negative stereotypes and tolerance were covered. How many times did we see Endora (Agnes Moorehead) tell Samantha that she disapproved of her daughter marring a mortal, what mortals did to them in the early days of Salem, or how mortals depict witches with hooked noses and warts. If you did not know that I was talking about TV witches, you might think that I was talking about one of a number of disenfranchised minorities.

If you think that I am connecting the dots incorrectly like some conspiracy theorist, I would encourage you to do a Google search and type in "Bewitched" and "Mixed Marriage", see what you find. I also want to point out that when Bewitched first premiered in 1964 it was not without controversy. Some stations refused to carry the show under pressure from religious groups that did not like the idea of a fine red blooded American male marrying a witch, a witch seen in a positive light, or an attractive witch (a problem that also pledged Glinda the Good when the 1939 MGM production of the The Wizard of Oz aired on TV). After Dick Sergeant joined the cast there was a concern that the public might find out that he was gay, even though no one was concerned about Uncle Arthur (Paul Lynde)."

I also mentioned that, The Munsters (Fred Gwynne & Yvonne De Carlo) were a mixed marriage of a vampire (descended from nobility) and the Frankenstein monster. Because the characters were monsters, their diversity was never made an issue either. Nor was it made an issue that they were the first married couple on TV to sleep in the same bed." I would later mention in The Beauty of The Munsters & The Addams Family.

The Addams Family
"The show mocked other TV families by being their polar opposite. This family would do everything from sword fighting to blowing up model trains in the middle of their own living room. If Fear Factor was around then, they would have the home version. I don't think anybody knew where John Aston began and Gomez Addams ended. Everything gave him a rush and his love for Morticia can only be described as horney monogamy. With all the craziness the show had moral high ground. Not only did you see a loving family where the parents were not afraid to show affection in front of the kids, you got to see so called "normal people" compromise their principles in order to do business with Gomez followed by humorous consequences.

The Munsters
"The Show is a brilliant mix of three key ingredients.The classic Universal Studios Monsters from the 1930 & 40's (that were finding a whole new audience thanks to Saturday Matinee "Creature Features" on TV)The placing of these monsters in the world of Leave It to Beaver (In fact the Munster's house is still across the street from the Cleaver's house on the Universal Back Lot only now Desperate Housewives have moved in). The "normal people’s" reactions to our family similar to those seen in Casper cartoons. The patriarch is the Frankenstein monster who married Dracula's daughter and live in the states as an "Typical American Family". There is more to Herman than a big stupid baby who throws tantrums by saying, "Darn! Darn! Darn! Darn!" Here is a character that is the Frankenstein monster, but he really thinks he is Fred MacMurray from My Three Sons. Fred Gwynne could deliver Ward Cleaver (Hugh Beaumont) type dialogue totally straight and was incredibly funny doing it. He was also able to play the stooge to Al Lewis in one scene, and then straight man to guest stars Paul Lynde or Harvey Korman in another.

Because of the macabre settings of the show, I think the writers were able to slip things under the censor’s radar. The wild look in Gomez’s eyes when he and Morticia played with whips and chains came very close to S&M. The Munsters did jokes about Vietnam, nuclear war and drugs. Herman & Lily were also the first TV couple to sleep in the same bed while Gomez & Morticia had twin beds of nails."

It’s scary how many topics that are still taboo today were used on these shows decades ago. All three of these shows have been remade in one form or another, and perhaps with the exception of the 1991 The Addams Family movie, the projects lacked the heart or intent of their original.

To quote Samantha Stephens, "Well?"

Stay Tuned & Happy Halloween.

Tony Figueroa

Thursday, October 20, 2005

There are no stupid TV shows, just.... Okay some are stupid. (Click PODCAST)

As I said in my Pre-ramble, "I represent the first generation whom, when we were born, the television was now a permanent fixture in our homes." That also means that the generation prior to ours did not grow up with a TV set as a permanent fixture in their homes. It seems that TV helped widen the generation gap as well as bond our generation in ways that nothing else had before (If you don't believe me try going to STAR TREK convention). At least my generation used to watch TV with their families. I could watch Happy Days with my mother. I thought The Fonz (Henry Winkler) was cool and she saw the show as nostalgic. Back then if I did not get a joke or a 1950's reference she would explain it to me or have me look it up in a dictionary or an encyclopedia (this was before Google). There were also primetime shows and after school specials that would encourage parents to watch with their kids. The episodes would cover a variety of topics like death, divorce, teen pregnancy and starting in the mid 1980s, AIDS. I find it amazing that in the past twenty years (I'm starting the clock with the news of Rock Hudson having the disease) that the subject of AIDS awareness has been discussed on TV through PSAs, news programs, documentaries, dramas, sitcoms, soaps and Movies of the Week. The ignorance of the disease is still high. Nowadays every family member has a TV in his or her own room. If a child asks their parents to explain something he or she saw on TV, the parents block the show with the V-chip, start a letter writing campaign or both. I sometimes forget that my mother was progressive and did not want to shield me from uncomfortable subject matter. If there was something that she really did not want me to see she would know beforehand through the newspaper or TV Guide.

Following the recent deaths of Bob Denver and Don Adams I was reminiscing with friends about our favorite episodes of Gilligan's Island and Get Smart. Then I remembered that many of the adults in my life (not children of television) dismissed the two shows as stupid. Both of these shows were on the air when I was born and have been airing ever since. The wealth of talent in front of and behind the camera has to be a huge contributing factor to a show's longevity. I was able to enjoy both shows in syndication. Both Gilligan's Island (1964-1967) and Get Smart (1965-1970) were on when I came home from school. These were shows that I enjoyed on one level then and on a different level now.

Gilligan's Island is possibly the most maligned situation comedy in the history of television. Sherwood Schwartz created a microcosm of American society with a military man, a millionaire, his socialite wife, a celebrity, an intellectual, a wholesome farm girl, and Gilligan. The idea was each week to show how these very different people had to work together as a cohesive unit in order to survive.

Mr. Howell: Do you think I began a dozen international corporations by stooping to thievery?

Professor: Well, of course not.

Mr. Howell: Shows how naive you are. How else do you get to the top of the corporate ladder!

In other words there was more to the show than the castaways almost getting off the island and Gilligan screwing it up. It's not like the viewers hoped that maybe, just maybe, this week they might actually make it off the island then felt bamboozled when it didn't happen. Everyone knew that if the castaways were rescued, the show would be over.

In an in an interview, I once heard Get Smart's creator Buck Henry describe Maxell Smart as the child of James Bond and Inspector Clouseau. Along with great parodies of popular secret agent movies and TV shows, Get Smart contained some highbrow social and political satire. There was more to the show than pratfalls and quotable catch phrases. Here is an example of the show’s wit. An anti-bomb statement is made in the episode titled Appointment in Sahara. Behind Max and 99 is a mushroom cloud:

Agent 99: Oh, Max what a terrible weapon of destruction.

Max: Yes. You know, China, Russia, and France should outlaw all nuclear weapons. We should insist upon it.

Agent 99: What if they don't, Max?

Max: Then we may have to blast them. That's the only way to keep peace in the world.

It’s funny that the same people who taught me to never judge a book by its cover could easily dismiss these shows as stupid. I can forgive them because the show’s humor may have been lost on that generation. It’s sad that now when someone sees a show that they don’t like because they don’t understand it or it conflicts with their beliefs, they can easily dismiss the shows as stupid. I can’t forgive that type of thinking. It’s not the show that’s stupid.

Stay Tuned

Tony Figueroa

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Buffalo Bill on DVD. (Click PODCAST)

As many of you know I love sitcoms. In the past I’ve talked about the importance of good writing, good acting, taking risks, being edgy, comedy coming from the situation and knowing everything you need to know about the show from it's pilot. I am surprised, almost embarrassed even that I never mentioned Buffalo Bill. This brilliant but sadly short lived sitcom aired from 1983 to 1984 and stared Dabney Coleman as Bill Bittinger, a local talk show host in Buffalo NY.

I remember back in 1983 NBC promoted the show by saying, Buffalo Bill makes "J.R. Ewing look like a Boy Scout" That was enough to make me want to watch the show. The shows opening told you that the title character was a sleazy guy with a good public image. The pilot actually delivered on the network's promise (although I saw Bill more as a white collar Archie Bunker without the moral high ground). Bill was truly the man you loved to hate. The show did not last long, a real shame because I have never met anyone who did not like the show. I used to say that the show was ahead of its time. I've since had to amend that statement because 22 years later that time has still not come.

When I found out that Buffalo Bill was coming out on DVD I went to the store and got the last copy. I had to wait a few weeks to watch the DVD because I was watching the new fall shows, the returning shows and besides I HAVE A LIFE! Both my wife and I have a favorite episode, #13 Titled: Hit the Road, Newdell. In this episode the racist Bill fires Newdell (Charles Robinson) then has a nightmare where he is persecuted by a roomful of African Americans while lip syncing Ray Charles’ Hit the Road Jack. For legal reasons (music rights) the nightmare scene was cut. Why was there not any mention of that on the DVD case? That episode was one of the reasons why I bought the DVD in the first place. I also wish the DVD had some extras like interviews with the shows actors and writers. They must have some great stories. Maybe we will see that on TV Land Confidential.

To quote Bill Bittinger, "Be good to yourself and be good to Buffalo".

Stay Tuned

Tony Figueroa

Thursday, October 06, 2005

I’m The REAL Prize Winner of Defiance Ohio. (Click PODCAST)

Last week I went to see the Go Fish Pictures (DreamWorks) production of The Prize Winner of Defiance Ohio. The movie stars Julianne Moore and Woody Harrelson. It is biased on Terry Ryan's best selling book about how her mother raised ten kids on twenty-five words or less. I really enjoyed the book and thought that Jane Anderson did a nice job adapting the screenplay. I only wish that the movie could have captured the town of Defiance better. In the book the town was it's own character. I fully realize turning a 351-page book into a 90-minute screenplay requires some streamlining.

Now you may ask, "What does this have to do with me or my CHILD OF TELEVISION column?" Well, I lived in Defiance Ohio from 1965-1972 and until recently I would visit the town often. Defiance Ohio is the inspiration for the fictional town of Compliance Ohio in my pilot RED STATE. My childhood memories of Defiance were very romantic it was like Mayberry from The Andy Griffith Show. It was quiet, everybody knew everybody, and kids played safely in the street. The people who lived on my street were like the Nelsons from The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet, or the Cleavers from Leave It to Beaver, Defiance was the ideal that television presented to America. When I was small, I was not aware of the many un-Mayberry like elements connected to Defiance. For example, there were other Puerto Ricans and even some blacks living in Defiance when I arrived, but they literally lived on the other side of the train tracks. Since I was half-Swedish, I was allowed to live on the good side.

In my adulthood I saw Defiance make the national news several times. Once when the KKK went to recruit members (unsuccessfully) at the Defiance courthouse. Another news story involved a run-a-way train coming through town. The cops decided to shoot out the tires. Proof alone that we are not dealing with the smartest part of the country. Then there was the Christmas when Santa Claus was physically thrown out of a church by four guys. Santa spent the holidays in traction because some Defiance residents take their religion very seriously. The best restaurant in Defiance is the Defiance Hospital Cafeteria. It has been written up in all the local papers. I never heard my grandparents mention Defiance Hospital in conjunction with quality health care, but it's cafeteria gets 5 stars from the Toledo Blade food critic. I have a friend who did a lot of TV in Puerto Rico. While doing a Google search and typed in his name, Johnny Ray Rodriguez, that another Johnny Ray Rodriguez, is one of thirty or so sexually oriented offenders living in Defiance Ohio. I'd seen news stories about registered sex offenders who would try to move in to a neighborhood only to be run out by the residents. I always wondered where they wound up. Now I know.

"What are they? High?" I asked. Then I remembered something historically significant that my Grandfather told me. During WWII there were huge fields near my grandparents house that the government used to grow hemp to make rope. When the war was over they didn’t do a very good job of clearing the hemp. No wonder hippies would go camping in these fields (maybe that's what attracted Woody Harrelson to the movie). Birds and the wind spread the seeds all over town. For years my grandmother kept pulling these weeds out of her flower box. "What are these things?"

Grandpa knew. After he died I was going through his tool shed and I found this little pipe. He was in constant pain towards the end of his life and hated the care he was getting at Defiance Hospital (probably because he could never get a reservation). Perhaps Grandpa was self-medicating. I think that hemp seeped into the ground water. I see myself as the Real Prize Winner of Defiance Ohio. I got the hell out of that town.

I wish Terry Ryan continued success and have to admit that I have some professional jealousy. I had wanted to be the first to put Defiance, Ohio on the map by making fun of the town. Instead, she has used the town as the backdrop for a very inspirational story. Perhaps there is a lesson to be learned in that... Naah!

There is a scene in the movie where Evelyn Ryan (Julianne Moore), while leaving town for the day, passes by a sign that reads, "Defiance is a nice place to live". Evelyn turns to her daughter Tuff (Ellary Porterfield) and says, "Defiance is a nice place to leave!"

Stay Tuned

Tony Figueroa

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Never Judge a show by it's Pilot: My Name is Earl. (Click PODCAST)

My Name Is Earl: Tuesday Night 9:00 PM NBC.

I have to say a few comments to say about My Name is Earl before I even see the pilot.

Every time a long running sit-com goes off the air (last season it was Everybody Loves Raymond) someone announces that, "The sitcom is dead". Trust me the sit-com is not dead.

When Desi Arnaz created I Love Lucy he described his idea simply. We are going film a stage play in front of a live audience with three cameras. Somewhere down the line we forgot that the plays the thing. Lately instead of a plot we have strung together one liners, zingers and sexual innuendoes. When we go back to the art of storytelling and showing that the comedy should come from the situation you will see that the sitcom is very much alive.

There are also single camera sitcoms, like My Name is Earl that is not shot in front of an audience. Instead of shooting a play this is more like shooting a 22-minute movie. Over the years some of the most popular shows in television history were single camera sitcoms including

The Andy Griffith Show (Celebrating it's 45 anniversary this year), M*A*S*H and the first couple of seasons of Happy Days. Back then single camera sitcoms were required to use a laugh track (Although M*A*S*H* did not use the laugh track in the operating room).

Current single camera sitcoms include Scrubs, The Office, Malcolm in the Middle, The Bernie Mac Show and Arrested Development.

Did you notice that 3 of the 5 listed single camera sitcoms were on FOX? FOX also had another single camera sitcom called
Oliver Beene that aired from 2003 to 2004. I have been told that this funny show failed not because it was a single camera sitcom, but because it was set in 1962 and period shows don’t do well (That '70s Show HELLO!). When FOX was in fourth place they took some creative risks and aired single camera sitcoms when the "Big 3" networks wanted to stick with the traditional three camera format. Now that NBC is in forth place, it's time for them to take some creative risks.

By now you've figured out that I am a fan of the single camera sitcom. In fact I wrote two pilots that were written for that format and was told that the networks were not interested in the single camera format, in spite of the above examples (don't confuse me with the facts). I love the three camera format as well. As a stand-up comedian I can tell you that there is nothing like working in front of a live audience, but sometimes the three camera format can be limiting to the confines of a sound stage. Not only is My Name is Earl a show that I think I might like as a viewer (Based on the promos). In a small way I feel that I have a vested interest in the success of this type of show.

I felt it important to tell you what is on my mind before I watched the pilot, but I will make a good faith effort to be objective.

I judge a good pilot by if lets you know every thing you need to know about the show in that first episode. A good example of this is the pilot for The Andy Griffith Show (as a spin off from Make Room for Daddy) and Hogan's Heroes. Taxi let you know every thing you need to know about the show in the first couple of minutes. The pilot for My Name is Earl let you know everything you needed to know before the first commercial break (Taxi’s record is safe.)

Jason Lee as Earl, is likable, you may even know a guy like him. He is definitely not a role model. Earl spent his life doing bad things to people and having bad things happen to him (the last straw is loosing a $100,000.00 lottery ticket). Earl learns about karma by watching Last Call with Carson Daly and hearing Carson say that his success and good fortune comes from doing good things for other people. Now inspired Earl sets out to correct every bad thing he has ever done (250 in total) in the hopes that good fortune will fall upon him. His first project is Kenny (Guest star Gregg Binkley), whom Earl used to torture as a child. Earl thinks that he can make things up to Kenny by getting him laid only to find out that Kenny is gay.

The show is funny, edgy and is sure to make the Parents Television Council hit list, but I never judge a show by it's pilot.

The second episode was just as good as the pilot proving that in a situation comedy, the comedy should come from the situation. The story was not predictable nor did I see the punch line coming from a mile away. My Name is Earl show could quite possibly be the best new show of the fall season (I haven't seen every new show yet, but if I see a better show, I'll say so).

To quote Earl and his brother Randy (Ethan Suplee)
Randy: What's karma? Earl: I don't know, it's something Carson Daly came up with.

Stay Tuned

Tony Figueroa

Monday, September 26, 2005

Would you believe?

Don Adams

My ninth grade drama class attended a city drama festival where we competed against drama classes from all over the city. The highlight of the festival was a special guest who came on stage to read the name of winning team in the "Group Improvisation" competition. The special guest was Don Adams who was greeted with a standing ovation that lasted for five minutes. When the crowd quieted down Mr. Adams said three simple words, "Would you believe?" and the crowd went into another five-minute standing ovation.

I was a fan of Mr. Adams before that special event and an even bigger fan after. Everyone has been expressing how much he or she loved "Get Smart", "Tennessee Tuxedo" and "Inspector Gadget", but no one has mentioned one of my favorite shows Don Adams' Screen Test.

Good Night Mr. Adams.
I wanted to shake your hand that day but I missed you by that much.

Stay Tuned

Tony Figueroa

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Never Judge a show by it's Pilot: The War at Home. (Click PODCAST)

The War at Home: Sunday Night 8:30 PM FOX.

Let me start with the positive notes. The show fits in very nicely between "The Simpsons" and "Family Guy". I like the use of monologues and inner-monologues to show what is really going on inside the character’s heads. We actually have a married couple on TV (Michael Rapaport & Anita Barone) who actually look like they could be married (instead of a smart attractive woman married to a dopey looking fat guy who’s at least ten years her senior). I like that they are trying to be edgy. The daughter (Kaylee DeFer) wants to loose her virginity. The parents think that their oldest son (Kyle Sullivan) is gay or a cross dresser because he dressed as his mom in order to steal her car.

I would not call these next comments negative just critical. The show fits in very nicely between "The Simpsons" and "The Family Guy", but "The Simpsons" and "The Family Guy"(then followed by "American Dad!") are cartoons where it’s still okay to show Dad as a bafoon. A big complaint I hear from men its that they are tired of seeing Dad portrayed as an idiot or seeing the kids smarter than Dad or both of the parents. With the exception of John Ritter in "8 Simple Rules... for Dating My Teenage Daughter", how many smart dads have we seen on TV since Bill Cosby in "The Cosby Show"? I said that, "I like that they are trying to be edgy" but I don't think the show is edgy enough. I say have the daughter loose her virginity with possible consequences and have the son actually be gay and comically show the teen gay lifestyle (Although the son’s best friend is gay). Come on this is FOX after all.

But I Never Judge a show by it's Pilot.

I saw the second episode. The Youngest son (Dean Collins) outsmarted and blackmailed his father in to buying him a $200.00 pair of tennis shoes when he catches his dad having cyber sex. The daughter was upset when she gave her (Black) boyfriend "something special" for their one-month anniversary and he gave her nothing. Dad assumes that she was referring to a tangible item. The second episode picked up on a story line from the pilot. The parents still thought that their oldest son was gay until he gets caught on camera running a red light while driving his mother’s stolen car.

In conclusion, I find "The War at Home" a cross between "8 Simple Rules" and "Married... with Children" with a hint of the TV movie "Still the Beaver"*. I saw some improvement in the second episode, but the show still lacks the heart needed in a family sit-com, even if the family is dysfunctional causing me to ask why should we care about these people. Finally I want to point out that every time a long running sit-com goes off the air (last season it was "Everybody Loves Raymond") someone announces, "The sit-com is dead". Trust me the sit-com is not dead. Shows like "The War at Home" just don't help keep it alive.

To quote Dave (Michael Rapaport), "I only have ONE simple rule for dating my daughter. If she sees your penis, I'll cut it off".

By the way, the use of the word "penis" is not edgy.

Stay Tuned

Tony Figueroa

*The adult Beaver Cleaver (Jerry Mathers) tries to use his father's child rearing techniques on his own kids only to find that they don't work anymore.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Congratulations to the 2005 Emmy Winners.

And the Emmys went to:

BRAD GARRETT as Robert Barone CBS
Everybody Loves Raymond

Boston Legal

58th Annual Tony Awards (2004)

Jerry Bruckheimer, Executive ProducerBertram van Munster, Executive ProducerJonathan Littman, Executive ProducerHayma "Screech" Washington, Executive ProducerAmy Nabseth Chacon, Co-Executive Producer Evan Weinstein, Co-Executive Producer Elise Doganieri, Supervising ProducerJohn Moffet, Supervising Producer Mark Vertullo, Supervising Producer Scott Owens, Supervising ProducerJulian Grimmond, Senior ProducerNancy Gunn, Senior ProducerAlex Rader, Senior ProducerGlenn Stickley, Senior ProducerJennifer Basa, ProducerDavid Brown, ProducerPatrick Cariaga, ProducerJarratt Carson, ProducerAllison Chase, ProducerCurtis Colden, ProducerAl Edgington, ProducerBarry Hennessey, ProducerMichael Norton, ProducerMichael Noval, ProducerGiselle Parets, ProducerBob Parr, ProducerBill Pruitt, ProducerMatt Schmidt, ProducerRebekah Fry, ProducerRichard Hall, ProducerPhil Keoghan, Host


Empire Falls

JANE ALEXANDER as Sara Roosevelt HBOWarm Springs

The Games of the XXVIII Olympiad – Opening Ceremony

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart

Everybody Loves Raymond

Jon Stewart, Executive ProducerBen Karlin, Executive ProducerStewart Bailey, Co-Executive ProducerKahane Corn, Supervising ProducerDavid Javerbaum, Supervising Producer

J. J. ABRAMS, Director ABC
LostPilot (Part 1 & Part 2)

HouseThree Stories

GEOFFREY RUSH as Peter Sellers HBO
The Life and Death of Peter Sellers

The Life and Death of Peter Sellers

The Life and Death of Peter Sellers

Lackawanna Blues

CHARLES McDOUGALL, Director ABCDesperate HousewivesPilot

Arrested DevelopmentThe Righteous Brothers

Mark Gordon, Executive ProducerCelia Costas, Executive ProducerChrisann Verges, Producer

Peter Fincham, Executive ProducerDavid M. Thompson, Executive ProducerRebecca Eaton, Executive ProducerJoanna Beresford, Executive ProducerJohn Chapman, Producer

Desperate Housewives



Boston Legal

J. J. Abrams, Executive ProducerDamon Lindelof, Executive ProducerBryan Burk, Executive ProducerCarlton Cuse, Executive Producer Jack Bender, Executive ProducerDavid Fury, Co-Executive ProducerJesse Alexander, Co-Executive ProducerJavier Grillo-Marxuach, Supervising ProducerSarah Caplan, ProducerLeonard Dick, ProducerJean Higgins, Produced by

Philip Rosenthal, Executive ProducerRay Romano, Executive ProducerRory Rosegarten, Executive ProducerStu Smiley, Executive ProducerLew Schneider, Executive ProducerTucker Cawley, Executive ProducerSteve Skrovan, Executive ProducerJeremy Stevens, Executive ProducerMike Royce, Executive ProducerAaron Shure, Executive ProducerLisa Helfrich Jackson, Co-Executive ProducerTom Caltabiano, Co-Executive ProducerLeslie Caveny, Co-Executive ProducerKen Ornstein, ProducerHolli Gailen, Producer

Seeing Donald Trump and Megan Mullally singing the theme of "Green Acres" reminded me why we slow down to look at car wrecks.

To quote Felicity Huffman, Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series (Desperate Housewives), "KLUNK!"

Stay Tuned

Tony Figueroa

Thursday, September 15, 2005

My Mission Statement Realized. (Click PODCAST)

I still find myself surfing through the cable news channels (Although I did take a break to watch FOX’s Sunday Night lineup) and still every thought I have eventually turns into a rant. My ranting then becomes political and that’s something that I'm trying to avoid doing in my column. If you have read my past articles you can guess where I stand politically, but I also believe that people who do not hold an elected office need to be held accountable for their action or their lack of action. (As I'm writing this week’s column, I’m starting to see the news channels reporting on non-politicians being held accountable for their actions) I'm sure that in the coming weeks we will be watching Hurricane Katrina investigation hearings on TV or as some elected officials call it "THE BLAME GAME". I can see the Saturday-Night-Live sketch now. We hear Don Pardo announce, "It’s The Blame Game, the game nobody wants to play. Now let’s meet our finger pointers". Then we see a set that looks like the old "Family Feud" set where the Federal Government faces off with the Local Government. Sadly I’m sure the real hearings will be more like a reality show than a game show and there will be no winners in the end.

"Give news a little more time and don't request that they also, in their news time, entertain. We're not entertainers. We're journalists. And we need more time to do our job well."
Walter Cronkite
With CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer about Dan Rather and the news industry today.
March 8th 2005 - Cronkite: News industry 'vastly different' - Mar 8, 2005

As I said in my Pre-ramble, "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". The coverage of Katrina's aftermath is a great example of this. Reporters showing America and the world the devastation left in Katrina's wake and the world responding with aid and demanding answers to what went wrong. It is sad to think that it took this horrible event to see reporters do their job of reporting the news. I'm sure younger viewers seeing reporters covering an event in the style of Edward R. Murrow covering the blitz in London rather than Mary Hart covering the Oscars on the Red Carpet must be eye opening. At an early age I saw the news the same way I saw caster oil, you did not like it but it was good for you. In the coming weeks we need to keep watching the news and learn lessons from this event so we do not repeat history and write to the news editors if they go back to dedicating more air time than appropriate to stories like Natalee Holloway. If we did not have Hurricane Katrina the top news story today would be "Britney Spears gives birth".

I have two quotes.

To quote CNN's Anderson Cooper (To Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La.), "Excuse me, Senator, I'm sorry for interrupting, I haven't heard that, because, for the last four days, I've been seeing dead bodies in the streets here in Mississippi. And to listen to politicians thanking each other and complimenting each other, you know, I got to tell you, there are a lot of people here who are very upset, and very angry, and very frustrated. And when they hear politicians slap - you know, thanking one another, it just, you know, it kind of cuts them the wrong way right now, because literally there was a body on the streets of this town yesterday being eaten by rats because this woman had been laying in the street for 48 hours."

And to quote ABC's Nightline host Ted Koppel (To FEMA Director Michael Brown) ''Don't you guys watch television? Don't you guys listen to the radio?''

Stay Tuned

Tony Figueroa

Thursday, September 08, 2005

A few thoughts on Katrina. (Click PODCAST)

I'm sure that many of you like me have spent most of the last week surfing through the cable news channels. It's still very difficult writing my opinions of everything that is happening in the Gulf Coast from the comfort of my Hollywood apartment. Every thought I have eventually turns into a rant and besides I myself would rather hear from the people who are actually there than hear from another observer.

During hurricane season I’m always very nervous. Most of my family lives in Orlando, Florida and Puerto Rico. When the storms start forming, I start my day watching the Weather Channel (, end my day watching the Weather Channel and wake up in the middle of the night and turning on the Weather Channel. In fact my brother has become an amateur storm tracker whose prediction are more accurate than the Weather Channel’s. The hard part is coming home and getting a morbid E-mail or just missing that phone call and hearing a morbid message on the machine telling me that everything is secured and now they have to ride out the storm. The Florida relatives can at least escape, but the Puerto Rican relatives are stuck. A few days later I would get a call or an E-mail telling me all is well but, they had a lot of cleaning up to do and I would breathe a sigh of relief.

Katrina got me thinking about my uncle Pelli. He was a big man with a big heart. During times like these while people are watching the devastation on TV and saying, "That’s a shame, someone should do something". Uncle Pelli did something. When Hurricane Andrew hit south Florida on August 24, 1992, he filled his van with clothes and food that he collected from relatives and the church, and drove the supplies from Orlando to Homestead. He did things like that all the time. Uncle Pelli died a couple years ago because like I said, "He was a big man with a big heart". At the funeral people asked, "Why did God take him so soon? He was a good guy". I’m not one who questions God on these matters, but I do have a theory. Uncle Pelli did his duty for King and country and then God called him home. Now while people are watching the devastation on television and saying, "That’s a shame, someone should do something". Well Uncle Pelli is not here to do something, it's your turn. It's my turn.

Right now we can't load up a van and head over there. In fact Good Samaritans are being told not to travel to affected areas, but instead to send money.

Organizations Requesting Cash Donations:

American Red Cross
English: 800-HELP-NOW (435-7669)
Spanish: 800-257-7575

The Salvation Army

America's Second Harvest

United Way


Oprah's Angel Network

Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund

Habitat for Humanity

Government Organizations:

FEMA: for official news, evacuation reports, and status updates

NOAA's Hurricane Center - Be Ready For the Next One:

Homeland Security Dept.:

Other Ways to Help:

Do you have a spare room, bed or couch to offer a family fleeing hurricane Katrina?

I want to issue this challenge. If you have been to New Orleans in the past, I am sure you had a good time. I say this because I have never heard anyone say, "I'd just come back from New Orleans and I was never so bored". I will even go as far as saying that you got more than your money's worth of fun (The DVDs of that fun are being sold on infomercials late at night). Now is the to pay back the difference. If you have never been to New Orleans, consider this donation a down payment on the fun you will have when you do eventually visit.

I still can't help but think that this storm could have hit Orlando, or Puerto Rico. Still my family will say, "I don’t know how you can live in California with all those earthquakes".

Stay Tuned

Tony Figueroa

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Kick In For The Big Easy.

We’ve seen the horrible images on TV.

Now it's time to help.

For The Victims of Katrina
Wednesday, Sept. 7 - 8:00 P.M.
Come for the show & Give what you can at the Coffee Fix
12508 Moorpark St.
Studio City
818 754-4354

Proceeds will go to The American Red Cross

Stay Tuned

Tony Figueroa

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Good Night Little Buddy.

Bob Denver

We will forever join you each week (and now anytime on DVD) and we’re sure to get a smile.

Stay Tuned

Tony Figueroa

Thursday, September 01, 2005

What are you going to do with an old pair of Red Shoes? (Click PODCAST)

The 1939 MGM production of "The Wizard of Oz" was not considered a classic until it started airing on CBS on November 3, 1956. (On December 10th 1961 Dick Van Dyke and his three children hosted the fourth television broadcast) For us Children of Television "The Wizard of OZ" was an annual television event. This was before home video. I remember seeing it once every year around Easter time. When I was nine years old I got to see it in color. It was like seeing it for the first time.

So what got me thinking about "The Wizard of OZ"?

I have a friend named Michael Shaw who has the most impressive privately owned collection of movie memorabilia. The crowning jewel of his, or any other, collection is a pair of Dorothy's Ruby Slippers. Even amongst the other existing pairs of Ruby Slippers his are the best (they were only used for the close ups). My wife and I have seen the slippers on many occasions and although it is cool to see the "Hope Diamond" of movie collectibles, it did not cure me of any ailment, transport me to a magical land or make me feel any closer to Judy Garland than I already was before.

Michael has taken his collection (including the "Ruby Slippers") on tour and has loaned them out for charity fundraisers. Last Sunday (Aug. 28th) the "Ruby Slippers" were stolen from the Judy Garland Museum in Grand Rapids, Minnesota where they had been on loan for ten weeks. The Judy Garland Museum insured the shoes for one million dollars and I am sure that there will be a few law suits as well. After all not only was an irreplaceable piece of Hollywood history stolen, the slippers along with the rest of his collection are his livelihood.

I have to ask the person who stole the Ruby Slippers, What are you going to do with an old pair of Red Shoes? You can’t display them. You can’t sell them on eBay. The shoes are size 5½ so you probably can’t wear them on Halloween (Perhaps the authorities in Grand Rapids Minn. have an APB out on crooks with really tiny feet). The way I see it, the cops are looking for you and the Judy Garland Museum’s insurance company has people looking for you. If they get to you first consider yourself lucky, because if the Gay Mafia gets to you first you will be at the bottom of the river wearing a stylish pair of decoupage over shoes that won’t send you back home.

To quote Jay Leno (to Hugh Grant), "What the hell were you thinking?"

Stay Tuned

Tony Figueroa

Friday, August 26, 2005


STORY SALON presents
an evening of stories presented by
Donna Allen-Figueroa
& Tony Figueroa
Friday, August 26th, 8:15pm
at the Coffee Fix
12508 Moorpark St
(Across from Studio City Library)
Studio City

My Odeo Channel (odeo/be4f2d9049030aa6)

Thursday, August 25, 2005

The people at the Cable Company shouldn’t use the words people say on Cable. (Click PODCAST)

As a Child of Television I have a big pet peeve with my cable company. Make that many pet peeves. For starters, they change about every two years. As soon as one company promises me something, that company gets bought out by different company who doesn’t want to honor the prior company’s agreement. Once while upgrading my cable box the cable guy (who showed up sometime between 9 AM and 5 PM), broke an antique rocking chair then ran out of the house faster than the high-speed modem that their Tele-marketers keep trying to sell me every other day at dinnertime. I’ll see an ad for a new cable channel like the "Door Knob" channel. In the ad they will say, "If you don’t currently get the "Door Knob" channel, call your cable operator and say I want the "Door Knob" channel". I called my cable operator and said, "I want the "Door Knob" channel". I could tell that cable company sales rep had reached her saturation point and is about to go postal. But at least they never called me "Bitch Dog".

Last week I saw Keith Olbermann (Countdown with Keith Olbermann) interview an Illinois woman, LaChania Govan, who tried to report a problem with her Broadband service, she had called several times only to be put on hold, disconnected, and transferred to the Spanish language operator. After she had complained over and over again about the poor service, she discovered that someone at her cable company, Comcast, had replaced her name on her August bill with the phrase "Bitch Dog". Ironically Ms. Govan works in customer service. Comcast has responded by firing the two employees responsible, and issued a public apology.

I have worked many customer service jobs in my life and have seen coworkers fired for a lot less. Understand I am a member of three unions (Screen Actors Guild, AFTRA and IATSE) and have worked for many years as a shop steward and have advocated workers rights. Even though I can not condone someone changing Ms. Govan’s name to "Bitch Dog" on her bill, I can only imagine Cable Company Support Reps take a lot of abuse from subscribers. I think that Comcast should investigate working conditions of their support reps before someone replaces the phrase "Going Postal" with "Going Cable". After all they know where we live.

To quote Comcast spokeswoman Patricia Andrews-Keenan, "We only use the actual customers names on the bill".

Gee, I wonder whom LaChania Govan made the cable payment check out to.

Stay Tuned

Tony Figueroa

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Confessions of a Toon Head. (Click PODCAST)

As I mentioned in CHILD OF TELEVISION: O Brothers, Where Art Thou? that, "I love cartoons (In fact I’m surprised that I have not dedicated a column just to animation)". When I started to piece together this week's column I kept tangenting off to another Toon topic. I quickly realized that I had enough material for several columns. So let me start this one by repeating that I love cartoons especially the classic Looney Tunes & Merrie Melodies, the old Paramount black & white Popeye cartoons and the classic MGM Tom & Jerry series that I grew watching on TV. My all time favorite cartoon is still Rabbit Seasoning (1952) where Daffy Duck says the famous line, "Pronoun trouble". These cartoons have stood the test of time. I can watch them as an adult and enjoy them on a totally different level than when I was a kid. We forget that these classic cartoons were written for adults to be seen in movie theaters and knowing that the kids would love them unconditionally. To fully appreciate the humor in some of these cartoons you must understand the time peroid in which they were made. For example when watching Rabbit Hood (1949) it helps to know who Errol Flynn was, then again cultural literacy is required to fully appreciate any art form.

About sixteen years ago I was talking to a friend and fellow Toon Head about our favorite cartoons. During this time many of the cartoons we liked as kids were being re-edited to remove some of the more violent (like the use of easily assessable sticks of dynamite) or raciest (Bugs & Elmer in Black Face) content. Sometimes the cartoon would come off looking like a bunch of set-ups with no punch line. We both felt that the stations should show the cartoon in its entirety or not show it at all if they were deemed inappropriate for younger viewers (we were yet not using the term Politically Correct). We started to talk about some of the cartoons from the World War II era that were on longer being aired. These cartoons after all were appropriate for us when we were kids. I remembered one cartoon where Bugs Bunny goes battles Hermann Georing Herr Meets Hare (1945). And another where Popeye and Bluto put their differences aside to fight the enemy Seein' Red, White 'n' Blue (1943). There was version of the 3 Pigs where the third pig is Sgt. Pork called Blitz Wolf (1942). There were a few other titles that I omitted so not to offend.

My friend found a video titled Bugs and Daffy: The Wartime Cartoons. The tape features 11 cartoons (Including "Herr meets Hare") from Warner Bros. directors Friz Freleng, Bob Clampett, and Chuck Jones. Leonard Maltin narrates in between the cartoons providing the proper historical perspective.

I later found Toons At War (Featuring "Seein' Red, White 'n' Blue" and "Blitz Wolf"). The tape is not of the best quality but contains some very hard to find titles, the titles on their own could be considered offensive.

Later on I would find Cartoon Crazys Goes to War featuring cartoons that are a must for any WWII cartoon collectors including one featuring the Man Of Steel "Superman - Eleventh Hour (1942)", and three "Private SNAFU" cartoons Spies (1943), Booby Traps (1944), and Snafuperman (1944).

Although I never saw these cartoons on TV as a child, Walt Disney Treasures - On the Front Lines is also a must for WWII cartoon collectors. This DVD set features what was believed to be lost, Victory Through Air Power (1943).

I do agree that these cartoons are no longer appropriate for small children, just like I don’t think small children should see "The Amos 'n Andy Show" (1951) or movies like The Birth of a Nation (1915). I do believe that these classics cartoon, TV shows and Movies need to be preserved and even shown to high school students as part of their social studies class. In the last few years while I’m trying to add these cartoons to my own personal collection there have been others who seem to feel that these cartoons should never be seen by anyone anywhere. In the late 1990s there were a series of Looney Tunes & Merrie Melodies cartoons released on Laser Disk (remember those?). On the disk that highlighted the 1940s there were some of the war time cartoons. Anti-defamation groups protested claiming saying that they were offended that these cartoons were being sold to children. I’m more offended by the narrow-minded point of view that all cartoons are "Kid Friendly". Ever hear of Fritz the Cat (1972)? If the retailers stuck everything animated in the children’s section, then shame on them. In 2001 the Cartoon Network had planed to show some of Bugs Bunny’s wartime cartoon as part of their "June Bugs" marathon celebrating Bugs’ birthday. Even though the wartime cartoons were going to be shown in the late night hours, the cable network later decided to remove the cartoons from their lineup so not to offend. The Cartoon Network was able to show Peace on Earth (1939). This cartoon looks like the supporting cast of Bambi (1942) were in a scene from All Quiet on the Western Front (1930). Two baby squirrels ask their grandfather, "what are men" when he comes in singing "peace on earth, goodwill to men". Their Grandpa tells them the story of man's last war with graphic detail. This short was nominated for the 1939 Nobel Peace Prize. Several of the animators who worked on this cartoon were veterans of the First World War, and had experienced combat similar to that depicted in the film. Ironically, they would be working on wartime propaganda cartoons two years later. Video: MGM Cartoon Christmas-Peace on (1936).

Peace on Earth

To quote Leonard Maltin from Bugs and Daffy: The Wartime Cartoons, "If we couldn't blitz Adolph Hitler and Benito Mussolini out of existence, well at least we could laugh at their expense. Make them look ridiculous which the animators found very easy to do. And if these lampoons seem broad or heavy handed at times, remember most American moviegoers had a big stake in this war. Loved ones and friends who were fighting overseas. It must have helped to be able to tweak the nose of the bad guy every now and then".

Stay Tuned

Tony Figueroa