Sunday, January 23, 2005

Long live the King! (Click PODCAST)

When I first heard of Johnny Carson's passing my first response was, "Gee, I thought Ed would be the first one to go". Just kidding, and I think Johnny would want it that way. Actually my thoughts immediately went to May 22, 1992 when Johnny did his last Tonight Show. This was the end of an era. Johnny was "The King of Late Night Television". With all due respect to the late Steve Allen, the late Jack Paar, Jay, Dave and Conan, no one has ever come close to doing what Johnny did for thirty years. He raised the bar that high.

As a comedian who started during the Comedy Boom of the 1980s being on "The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson" was the sign that you had made it. I would dream of doing my set, then seeing Johnny give me a thumbs up, the okay sign, or maybe, just maybe invite me to the coveted couch. Well, I never got to live dream. Again with all due respect to Jay and Dave, Johnny's couch meant more.

Finally now that Johnny is gone, I have a confession to make. In the spring of 1992 shortly before his last show and knowing that I would never be a guest on "The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson" I found myself at NBC Burbank. A friend had asked me to drop her off for an early morning call. It was about 5:00 am. Because of the darkness of the hour, the guard allowed me to the drive her on to the lot (a big deal in itself and something that would never happen today) and told me to drop off my friend at the talent entrance. The parking space closet to this entrance belonged to Johnny Carson. Since there was no one else around I thought, what the hell. I parked in Johnny Carson’s parking spot for probably all of a minute. I thought if I couldn't sit on his couch this would have to do. On May 22, 1992 I mourned the loss of a dream. Today I mourn the loss of a legend.

Two quotes came to mind when I wanted to quote Johnny. When asked what he wanted on his tombstone Johnny said, "We'll be right back" but perhaps for this occasion it is best to quote Johnny with last thing he said to us on The Tonight Show, "I bid you all a heartfelt Good Night".

And Good Night to you Johnny, I think you just redefined "Heavenly Host".

Stay Tuned

Tony Figueroa

"Heeeeeeeere's Johnny!"

Friday, January 21, 2005

Must See Sabbath.

It bothers me immensely that whenever we have an Earthquake, Brushfire or Floods and Mudslides in California someone from the Bible belt is on TV saying, "You people in California are being punished for your sinful ways". I have to remind them that it wasn't that long ago when we were watching them on TV, sitting on their roof tops. As the mighty Mississippi River rose up through their homes to their attics.

I believe in God but I don’t see myself as a religious person. To me religion is like this endless array of middle managers keeping you from getting to the boss. And faith is knowing that his office on the top floor has an open door policy. I want a direct line to God. Like when Commissioner Gordon picked up the Bat Phone. To me religion becomes like God’s Answering Service.

Thank you for calling God. Due to the high volume of callers you may experience a delay of 2 millennia or you can choose the following options:
For Forgiveness press 1.
For Penance press 2.
For Blasphemy press pound, over and over and over again. Bingo.

I think what really makes my point is the Catholic Church advertising on MTV. Something’s wrong when a religion has to hire Madison Avenue ad executives to sell itself as if it was Diet Pepsi. All the salvation, Half the guilt! See, hundreds of years ago, I think people saw religion the same way we see television today. Must see Sunday. Look at the similarities. They cater to the lowest common denominator. They sell their product like it’s the greatest thing in the world. And they don’t require their audience to think. Religion had the Protestant Reform. TV had cable. We went from a handful of options to hundreds.

When television and religion coalesced somehow, against the laws of mathematics, the sum became less than its parts. Unfortunately you tune in to your religious leaders on TV in times of crisis and they will blame the problem on gays, feminists, the ACLU and the Teletubbies (Tinky Winky to be exact). Now some Christian groups are targeting SpongeBob SquarePants for promoting the Gay lifestyle Conservatives Pick Soft Target: A Cartoon Sponge. I guess anyone who lives in a pineapple has got to be a bit fruity and yet no one has ever questioned Bert & Ernie living together on "Sesame Street.

I know some Christians (many of whom live here in Hollywood) who are tired of a handful of self appointed Christian representatives perpetuating a negative stereotype. Maybe it’s time that you do like we did in California and have them recalled.

To quote Archie Bunker on All in the Family, "God don’t make no mistakes-that’s how he got to be God".

Stay Tuned

Tony Figueroa

Monday, January 10, 2005

A case of life imitating art... NOT!

The other day after having watched back to back episodes of "Law & Order" on TNT and feeling sad over the loss of Jerry Orbach (Det. Lennie Briscoe on the show) I switched over to the news where the story broke that Andrea Yates’ murder conviction for drowning her children in the bathtub was overturned by an appeals court. This was because the psychiatrist for the prosecution gave erroneous testimony that suggested Yates got the idea from a non-existent episode of "Law & Order."
MSNBC - Convictions overturned for mom who drowned 5 kids

I remember as a child I would emulate things that I saw on TV, but then I reached an age when I knew that I had to hang up my Fonzie leather jacket and start acting more responsibly. While I was trying to start a jukebox by hitting it, other kids were trying to copy criminal acts that they saw on cop shows with very little success. These kid’s sentencing would wind up on the news and somewhere in the story the TV show would be admonished. Shame on you, "Adam12". Again we are talking kids. At a certain age some switch should click in our brains that tells us that we can't do the stuff we see professional actors and stunt people doing on TV. Sadly for some their switch is broken, was never installed or turned back to the off position.

Usually the worst thing that these people do is slap a soap opera actor who plays a villain on the show when they see them in public (a problem that is more common in New York & Los Angeles). Equally sad is that there are a greater number of people who are willing to blame the media rather than take personal responsibility for their actions. This time that knee jerk blame shifting led to a huge miscarriage of justice.

I am not trying to make light of the death of five children, but I do find it amusing when the appeals court based its reversal on false testimony by a prosecution witness, forensic psychiatrist Park Dietz, who had stated that the killings occurred shortly after an episode of the NBC police drama in which a woman drowned her children and was acquitted by reason of insanity. And other witnesses testified that Yates watched the television series, allowing the prosecution to suggest that Yates had seen the show and used the plot to plan the murders of her children. Jurors did not learn until after Yates was convicted that the episode never existed. At the time of the trial there must have been well over 200 episodes of "Law & Order" (not including its spin-offs) that have aired. So even a regular viewer of the show might think, Oh I must have missed that one, but still if I was on that jury I would have asked to see a copy of the "Law & Order" episode in question that was used as a blueprint for the crime instead of just connecting the dots. I'm sure that in a small way this event is a testament to the brilliant writing and acting on the "Law & Order" shows. So brilliant that a jury easily accepted the idea of an episode where a woman drowned her children and was acquitted by reason of insanity actually aired.

I learned after a personal loss that a death is only senseless only if nothing is done about it. We have a great opportunity to learn from what happened to Andrea Yates and other women who suffer from postpartum depression in the hopes these types of deaths can be prevented in the future. Then perhaps those five children would not have died in vain. And maybe we won't so quick to dismiss an event as someone doing something they saw on a TV show.

If only Det. Lennie Briscoe was around to see this. I am sure he would know just the right thing to say for me to quote here.

Jerry you were my favorite part of the show.

Stay Tuned

Tony Figueroa

My Honorable Mention additions to “TV Guide and TV Land presents The 100 Most Memorable TV Moments”. (Click PODCAST)

TV Guide and TV Land did a comprehensive series that focused on the 100 Most Memorable TV Moments.
TV Guide and TV Land presents The 100 Most Memorable 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.
I suggest for future lists that there should be a distinction between entertainment produced for television like Number 18, Sammy Kisses Archie (February 19, 1972) from "All in the Family" and events that were captured on television like Number 1, September 11, 2001.

Here is my list of Memorable TV Moments that I think should have made the Top 100.

Murphy Brown’s baby (May 18, 1992) "Murphy Brown". Never before or since has a TV show influenced presidential politics.

The Flash Point of the L.A. Riots. (April 29, 1992). The beating of Reginald Denny at the corner of Florence and Normandie started it all. A runner up to this should be Rodney King saying, "Can't we all get along".

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.

Ed Ames Tomahawk toss (April 29, 1965) "The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson". It's a visual.

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.

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.

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

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 male anatomically correct doll to be made and sold in America.

Sesame Street Debuts on November 10, 1969. By the way this column is brought to you by the letters "T" and "V".

Fonzie jumps the shark (September 20, 1977) from "Happy Days". This episode now serves as a metaphor for when a TV show has reached its peak.
Jump The Shark...the turning point of television programming

To quote Reverend Jim Ignatowski on Taxi, "Hey, Alex - you know the really great thing about television? If something important happens, anywhere in the world, night or day... you can always change the channel".

Stay Tuned

Tony Figueroa

Saturday, January 08, 2005

My Honorable Mention additions to Bravo’s “The 100 Greatest TV Characters”. (Click Podcast)

Bravo completed a comprehensive five-part series that focused on famous television characters that have become a part of the fabric of American pop culture.

Bravo’s The 100 Greatest TV Characters

These TV characters broke out of the pack to emerge as pop icons. I, like I’m sure many others, played Monday morning quarterback and noticed who didn’t make the list.
For example,

Number 78. was Rob & Laura Petrie, but there was no Buddy & Sally.
Number 58. was Barney Miller but there was no Fish.
Number 42. was Laverne & Shirley but there was no Lenny & Squiggy.

Here is my list of characters that I think should have made the Top 100.

The Mertzs (William Frawley & Vivian Vance) from "I love Lucy". The Ricardos needed them so much that they took Fred & Ethel with them when they moved to Connecticut.

Carlton the Doorman (The Voice of Lorenzo Music) from "Rhoda". Perhaps there should be a special category for disembodied voices that would include Charlie (John Forsythe) from "Charlie’s Angels" and K.I.T.T. (William Daniels) from "Knight Rider". In the same theme...

Robot (Bob May) from "Lost in Space". More people quote this character, "Danger Will Robinson" than have seen the show. Speaking of artificial life forms...

Lt. Commander Data (Brent Spiner) from "STAR TREK The Next Generation". The most human character on the show was an android. Since I listing non-human characters...

Arnold Ziffel (Arnold the Pig) from "Green Acres". I chose Arnold to represent all of the citizens of Hooterville in "Green Acres" "Petticoat Junction" none of who made the list. Nor did the characters from another Paul Henning show...

The Clampetts (Buddy Ebsen, Irene Ryan, Donna Douglas and Max Baer Jr.) from "The Beverly Hillbillies". Good, bad or indifferent to urbanites this family put a face on rural America.

Larry Tate (David White) from Bewitched. I’ve had many bosses like Larry and a few neighbors like Gladys Cravits (Alice Pearce & Sandra Goulde)

Mr. Carlin (Jack Riley) from "The Bob Newhart Show", "St. Elsewhere", "ALF" etc. He put a face on TV crazy. PS: His first name is Elliot.

Fred Flintstone (Alan Reed) from "The Flintstones". If Homer Simpson is Number 5 and Ralph Kramden is Number 2 then Fred should be in between them on the Darwin sitcom chart.

Rochester Van Jones (Eddie Anderson) from "The Jack Benny Program". Years before Benson (Number 68), he was a man of color who worked as a butler but was not subservient and proved to be smarter than his boss.

To quote Homer, Bart and Lisa Simpson,
LISA (looking at Abraham Lincoln's hat): America's greatest citizen summed up in one piece of clothing.
HOMER: Fonzie's jacket!
BART: Who's Fonzie?
HOMER: Who's Fonzie?! Don't they teach you anything in school? He freed the squares!

Fonzie was Number 4.

Stay Tuned

Tony Figueroa

Thursday, January 06, 2005

My message to “The Parents Television Council”.

While surfing my usual TV websites I went to the Parents Television Council site and found this article.

NBC Welcomes the New Year with the F-Word
According to an unidentified NBC official, NBC hasn't received any calls about the F-word that Mötley Crüe rocker Vince Neil dropped during the live New Year's Eve broadcast of "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno."
Maybe that's because it's impossible to find a phone number on their website? The PTC has received many complaints on the incident. Too bad the
Associated Press didn't think to ask how many email complaints they'd gotten.
Want to make your voice heard? Email Phone (818) 840-4444 ( yes, that's right if you don't live in LA then it is a long distance call). You can find info for your local NBC affiliate here. It's no surprise that the only place you can find NBC's phone number is on the PTC website. NBC doesn't want you to have their phone number because they don't want to get your complaints. They don't care if you let your children stay up to celebrate the new year only to be welcomed by the f-word. Please let them know what you think about that and write a letter to the editor of your local paper as well.

Here is that moment Tonight Show "F" word.

Perhaps that unidentified NBC official hasn't received any calls about the F-word is because people don’t care about an isolated incident (a verbal malfunction) made during a moment of escape during a week where we were bombarded with the horrible news on the deadly Tsunami in Asia. In fact you should be commending the NBC because the NBC Universal networks will be airing a tsunami benefit on January 15th. You also failed to mention that per the Associated Press article, "The remark was carried to viewers on the East Coast but was edited out before it was broadcast in the West, according to the entertainment trade paper Variety, which reported the incident on its Web site Monday night". This tells me that NBC did take immediate action to incident.
Your organization was founded to "ensure that children are not constantly assaulted by sex, violence and profanity on television and in other media". Perhaps at this time you should dedicate your efforts to making sure that children are not constantly assaulted by Tsunami News Coverage. There are other children’s issues related to the Tsunami including children who are now orphans, their medical needs, illegal adoptions and being sold in to the sex trade.
Making this an issue bigger than it really is make the members of your organization look like you are going through Janet Jackson withdrawal.

To quote 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, January 01, 2005

Happy New Year 2005

Happy New Year.

To quote Dave Garroway, the first host of the TODAY SHOW who closed each program with an upraised hand and the single word “Peace”.

Stay Tuned

Tony Figueroa