Thursday, January 26, 2006

Confessions of a Wingnut.

Wingnut: A fan of the Aaron Sorkin political drama TV series The West Wing.

I love The West Wing. I'm not fanatical or anything. I don't collect trading cards, action figures or go to the conventions dressed as one of the characters on the show (If I did go, it would be as Reporter #3). As I have said many times before, I like good stories, good writing and good acting. I'd take that over dancing or skating with the has-beens any day. I guess I'm in that minority of people who like the current story line where we not only see the inner workings of the Bartlet (Martin Sheen) White House, but also the behind the scene activities of the Santos (Jimmy Smits) and Vinick (Alan Alda) campaigns. I also looked forward to a new president being elected, a transition period and a new administration going through its first 100 days. I also would want to see which actors would stay with the show and who would move on. You can imagine that I was disappointed to hear that NBC announced that they were not going to bring the show back next season. This news didn't exactly come as surprise, but I was still hopefully optimistic that the show would continue with a new administration. The network cited that low ratings caused by the show moving to Sunday nights. I'd say move the show back to Wednesday!

This is what I'd like to see happen in the remaining episodes. Bartlet is able to broker peace between Russia and China over Kazakhstan thus ending his presidency on a high note securing his legacy. Bartlet's good press only helps fellow Democrat Santos win the election and as his final presidential act he pardons Toby Ziegler (Richard Schiff) for his role in the military shuttle leak. The show will deal with the loss of actor John Spencer (Leo McGarry). The show's executive producer, John Wells recently told the L.A. Times that he has been writing the two-part episode (airing April 2nd) in which Leo will die of a heart attack five days before the election. Wells decided that Leo McGarry's name will remain on the ballot and if Santos wins, he will then appoint a vice president after his inauguration. Since I want to see Santos win, I think that it would be very cool if Santos on Josh Lyman’s (Bradley Whitford) recommendation appoints Sam Seaborn (Rob Lowe) as vice president. We will see what happens when the series final episode airs on May 14th.

Finally to the critics and the critical. I respect those who feel that the show Jumped The Shark when Aaron Sorkin and Thomas Schlamme left the series or even when Rob Lowe left because it was no longer the show that you fell in love with. I also respect those conservatives who may not agree with the show's political point of view but like me value good stories, good writing and good acting. To those who like to refer to the show as The LEFT Wing but could never give me a reason as to why they call it that. I’d like to remind them of what I said in There are no stupid TV shows, just.... Okay some are stupid, "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 show as stupid. I can’t forgive that type of thinking. It’s not the show that’s stupid".

To quote Leo McGarry: There are two things in the world you never want people to see how you make them - laws and sausages.

Would network programming count as number three?

Stay Tuned

Tony Figueroa

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Addictive Television. (Click PODCAST)

There was a time in television history when the drunk character’s sole job was to provide comic relief. Otis Campbell (Hal Smith) on The Andy Griffith Show is the first character that comes to mind. There were many characters on shows like Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie who would either promise to quit drinking or order another round when they saw some feat of prestidigitation. Later I noticed that if a show wanted to seriously tackle the issue of alcoholism or drug addiction it would be shown by having a visiting character suffer from the disease and then the problem would be resolved by the end of the episode. At the same time parents would complain that kids think all problems can be resolved in a half-hour. Later on I would see both comedies and dramas show regular characters deal with their addictions and recoveries. However, if the character is attractive, the show is accused of glamorizing the bad behavior. Just because bad behavior is shown on TV does not mean that TV is glamorizing the bad behavior. That is like saying that Archie Bunker (All in the Family) glamorized bigotry or The Sweathogs (Welcome Back, Kotter) glamorized remedial education.

Last season Desperate Housewives had a story line where Lynette (Felicity Huffman) became addicted to her twins' ADD medication. The story line took place over several episodes. After the first episode of this story aired, I heard complaints (Mostly from the Parents Television Council) that the show glamorized addiction and that the characters do not suffer any repercussions for their actions. Lynette eventually did pay the price for her addiction and Felicity Huffman won an Emmy.

This season, one of the American Family Association's many complaints about NBC’s new show The Book of Daniel was that, "The main character is Daniel Webster (Aidan Quinn), a drug-addicted Episcopal priest whose wife (Susanna Thompson) depends heavily on her mid-day martinis". Why can’t we show a priest and his wife with an addiction? I am sure that given time these addictions will be dealt with appropriately. I started thinking about last Sunday night where both Desperate Housewives’ Bree (Marcia Cross) and Crossing Jordan's Garret (Miguel Ferrer) were arrested for drunk driving and neither show resolved the issue in the course of the episode. I am challenging the PTC and the AFA to give these story lines a chance by letting them play out before you pass judgement. If the stories are handled responsibly, use your web sites to commend their social responsibility.

Finally I can’t seem to remember a TV show that dealt with a character who was addicted to television... then again maybe I’m just in denial.

To quote Sheriff Andy Taylor and Deputy Barney Fife,

Barney: You know we couldn't have given Otis a sobriety test last night.

Andy: Why not?

Barney: He was too drunk!

Stay Tuned

Tony Figueroa

Friday, January 13, 2006


Stories from a typical American marriage told by a typical American Couple, considering that the couple is made up of one Puerto Rican-Swedish television aficionado, and one African American Jane Pauley sound-alike shopalcoholic. The audience will follow their adventures in and over America, as they stray from the normalcy of their home, Hollywood CA.

The true-life stories are written and performed by Tony and Donna Figueroa for the
STORY SALON in Los Angeles CA. The Story Salon is Southern California's longest running, regularly performing, live storytelling ensemble.

Tony Figueroa and Donna Allen-Figueroa live in Hollywood, CA where they have been married for 12 years. While they both have very active separate careers, together they have worked on and produced several projects including a television talk show DAYLIGHT that aired in Los Angeles. DAYLIGHT was the first project that Tony & Donna hosted together. Most recently Tony and Donna have been very active in the STORY SALON in Southern CA. Here they have developed several one and two person shows, including
GUESS WHO'S COMING TO COFFEE. Tony and Donna have just finished StoryFest 05 in Los Angeles where they both performed several 1st person narratives. Tony and Donna are the proud parents of two spoiled cats.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Those were the days.

Today marks the thirty-fifth anniversary of the most groundbreaking situation comedy in television history. I still watch these classic episodes on TV Land. This weekend TV Land will run an All in the Family marathon and an All in the Family TV Land's TOP TEN. I wanted to honor this TV milestone by re-posting an article that I originally wrote as a rant when a woman from Germany asked me, "Why do American Comedy shows have recorded laughter when the shows are not done in front of an audience?"
Please note that I wrote this before My Name Is Earl and The Office.

Where’s Norman Lear now that we need him?
Originally posted Friday, December 17, 2004

"I wish that life came with a laugh track. That way people who can't see how funny life really is can at least pretend they get it."
Tony Figueroa

We are the only country in the world that uses laugh tracks on comedy shows when they are not filmed in front of a live audience. It seems like it's done just so the stupid people won't feel bad, or dare I say, stupid when they don't get the joke.I have a friend whom once missed pronounced "Sit-Com" by adding an "H". He paused when he realized what he just said, and responded with, "You know what? Freud once said, there are no accidents".

The fate of the sitcom is uncertain. This is sad, painful, and concerning to me.
Sad, because my goal in life is to write, produce and star in my own sit-com.
Painful because most of the sit-coms that we have left are just bad. It's painful to even watch them. No new ideas, bad acting, and bad writing. Instead of a plot they string together a bunch of sexual innuendoes and call it "sophisticated". That's not a sit-com. That's a burlesque show.For example, the girl with the large breasts is dumb and the girl with the small breasts is smart. But the girl with the small breasts is still jealous of the girl with the large breasts because she has large breasts. I guess that's more sophisticated than what we did in the old days when the blond was dumb and the brunette was smart. Or we see, Enter smart black guy. He greets stupid white guy. Within a few seconds we hear, "You know, some of my best friends are black".
All of this concerns me, so I have to ask, "Where are today’s Norman Lears, Larry Gelbarts and Susan Harriss? People who used comedy to talk about war, prejudice, and the issues of the day". Now don't shout out your answers, it’s a rhetorical question. I know where they are. They're telling stories in coffeehouses STORY SALON. They're making underground comedy albums that make fun of the current administration. They're in 99 seat houses doing controversial plays. They’re everywhere just not on TV. Why? Some say that it’s the dumming down of the TV viewer who would rather see a bikini clad girl in a tank filled with electric eels or a guy eating goat testicles than something that requires them to think. In the process, this puts talented actors and writers out of work. Others feel that in this current political climate anything topical especially when it is mocking or criticizing the current administration is considered dissent, treasonous or just down right Un-American. We can debate this forever, but the third and most practical reason is that this is a business and topical sit-coms do not do well in syndication where the money is.

On a very personal note: After 9/11 I kept hearing all these great singers sing "God Bless America". Then something in my Child of Television mind clicked while watching the memorial service at the National Cathedral in Washington D.C. I remembered a few months prior to the attacks, Carroll O'Connor, who created the role of Archie Bunker in All in the Family, had died. In all the television tributes to Mr. O’Connor one scene was shown repeatedly. The scene from All in the Family where Archie sings God Bless America. So while this mezzo-soprano sang her beautiful rendition of God Bless America, in the back of my head I heard Archie Bunker singing, "God bless America you dumb Pollack!" And I had my first laugh since the tragedy. It started as a snicker. Then I actually looked around my living room as if I was in church to make sure no one saw me laugh. The absurdity of the situation caused me to laugh louder. All of a sudden, during a very solemn occasion I became Mary Richards at Chuckles the Clown’s funeral.

Thank you Norman Lear and God Bless Carroll O'Connor.

To quote David Hyde Pierce in his Emmy acceptance speech, "I heard that the sit-com as we know it is changing. When it changes back, please call me".

Stay Tuned

Tony Figueroa

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Never judge a show by it's pilot: The Book of Daniel.

This past Christmas I was in Ohio and I saw a lot promos for a new NBC series titled The Book of Daniel. My first thought was that this show looks to do to organized religion what Desperate Housewives did to suburbia. When I returned home to Hollywood I was surfing the net and wanted to check up on the American Family Association. This was the group that was staging boycotts of businesses that chose to say “Happy Holidays” as opposed to “Merry Christmas” in their retail ads, in-store promotions and in television commercials. I was curious to see what this group was going to do now that Christmas was over. What I found was their new crusade with a link that read NBC Demeans Christian Faith. I clicked on the link and read their statement, “New NBC Drama Show Mocks Christianity”. The AFA has set up an e-mail campaign where they want people to write to NBC Chairman Bob Wright and complain about the yet to be aired series. Here are some of their grievances:

NBC is touting the network's mid-season replacement series "The Book of Daniel" with language that implies it is a serious drama about Christian people and Christian faith.
What promo were you watching?

The main character is Daniel Webster, a drug-addicted Episcopal priest whose wife depends heavily on her mid-day martinis.
Even priests and their families are not immune to addiction.

Webster regularly sees and talks with a very unconventional white-robed, bearded Jesus.
Garret Dillahunt looks no different than most of the other depictions of Jesus I have seen.

The writer for the series (Jack Kenny) is a practicing homosexual.
The AFA seem obsessed with the “Gay Agenda”. Currently the AFA is considering a boycott of Ford Motor Company because they support the “Gay Agenda”

The readers are directed to use a link to send a letter to NBC Chairman Bob Wright and find a prewritten letter. I would like to remind the AFA that shows in the past like Soap, Married... with Children and Desperate Housewives grew in popularity when groups or individuals protested the show on moral grounds. As I stated in my article Must See Sabbath, “I believe in God but I don’t see myself as a religious person”. I also feel that God has a sense of humor. You might say that I’m betting my eternal life on it. Since God gave us free will I’ll watch the pilot and decide for myself.

Let me start with the positive. The pilot titled Temptation opens with Daniel Webster and his wife Judith (Susanna Thompson) bailing their daughter Grace (Alison Pill) out of jail. The family interaction on the drive home establishes that this is a caring family. Revered and Mrs. Webster's addictions were seen, but not resolved nor was it glamorized. I liked that this is not Father Knows Best so to speak. I have known a couple of pastors and have the seen the difference between their personal life with all it's struggles and their alter persona. This is captured nicely in the show. The best part of the show is the character of Jesus who is a constant companion to Daniel in times of trouble or temptation. The Jesus character is not judgmental. He helps Daniel find the answers within himself and does it with great humor. In other words, Jesus is Daniel's rock

My problem with the show is the pacing. The promo implied that the show would be one comedy of errors after another and like movie previews they show the best part of the show thus eliminating any element of surprise. Many characters are witty, perhaps too witty, but being witty is no substitute for being funny. There was no physical comedy until 48 minutes into the episode when Daniel's sister in law Victoria (Cheryl White) runs after her late husband's mistress Jessie (Alana De La Garza) during his Funeral. I think the show could use some work, but has potential. I would tell the AFA that the show is a serious drama about Christian people. I have more problems with the serious part than the Christian part. I expected more laughs, but I never judge a show by it's pilot fortunately the second episode titled Forgiveness aired immediately after the pilot.

The second episode had a better pace and a better balance of witty and funny. I'm starting to care more for the supporting characters, (More so the adults then the smart-ass children.) and the "what happened to the money" storyline. The episode had a stand-alone story where Daniel gives premarital counseling to a couple. These stand-alone stories could be a great way to cover the problems facing the church in the 21st century (They can have a lot fun of with the topic of morality on Television). The bisexual sister in-law reveal should have been a surprise but again the show's promo gave it away. Perhaps this reveal should have been saved till a later time allowing Daniel's gay son Peter's (Christian Campbell) story line time to develop. This show is really a nighttime soap opera and should be promoted as such with out giving too much away. Also since this is a nighttime soap opera, it can't take itself too seriously and should be more of a comedy with some serious moments instead of the other way around. Finally a note to the Christian critics (Not to be confused with critical Christians). I understand that you would want to see a positive portrayal of Christians and Christianity and I don't see that The Book of Daniel demeans the Christian faith, nor does it mock Christianity. I think showing Christians as superior to their fellow man is a mockery. The show should be evaluated on the acting, writing and directing. Staging a boycott will only give the show millions of dollars of free publicity. Besides the Nielsens don't need your help killing a show. Nothing is stopping you from airing something on one of the Christian cable channels to draw from The Book of Daniel audience. Let the free will of the TV viewing public decide the fate of the show. Since the shows airing I have had a few water cooler conversations about it. Something you don't get that from reality TV. The most memorable comment I heard was, "Jesus is cool". Isn't that your message?

To quote The Book of Matthew Chapter 7:1, “Judge not, that ye be not judged”.

Stay Tuned

Tony Figueroa

Thursday, January 05, 2006

This made my TOP TEN List.

I'm not smart enough to debate you point to point on this, but I have the feeling, I have the feeling about 60 percent of what you say is crap. But I don't know that for a fact.
I heard David Steinberg once say that, "A comedian has to have a point of view". You look at some comedians known for being a buffoon like Tommy Smothers and not realize that he had a very strong point of view and a specific direction for The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. As I listed in my Comedy Grievances CHILD OF TELEVISION: March 2005, "Comedians are accused of not taking things seriously" (David Letterman's sarcastic style might fall under this category at times). This is far from the truth. Comedians, comedy writers and humorists are some the most serious and well read people I know. Another grievance I had is that comedians are expected to be funny on demand and the example I gave was the heated exchange between Jon Stewart and Tucker Carlson on Crossfire. Jon Stewart Crossfire Transcript

STEWART: You know, the interesting thing I have is, you have a responsibility to the public discourse, and you fail miserably.

CARLSON: You need to get a job at a journalism school, I think.

STEWART: You need to go to one. The thing that I want to say is, when you have people on for just knee-jerk, reactionary talk...

CARLSON: Wait. I thought you were going to be funny. Come on. Be funny.

STEWART: No. No. I'm not going to be your monkey.

For good or bad, many Americans turn to late night comedians for their news. I'd even say that there are times when comedians can do a more effective job at presenting the news than the newscasters themselves (Jon Stewart does it most of the time). After all they are sometimes using the same source material and just adding a punch line to it. David Letterman and Jay Leno do, in my opinion, make a good faith effort to be, dare I say it, "fair and balanced" when it comes to political humor something they learned from the master Johnny Carson. Even then there are those times where they can’t resist slamming someone. Still both comedians will always be criticized just because they joked about certain politician that was deemed off limits by someone void of humor. Since Jon Stewart specifically makes fun of the newsmakers and the news media. He targets those are currently in power and how the media covers them. All three comedians I listed have a specific point of view and then choose to play their cards close to the vest or lay them all out on the table. On Dave’s January 3rd show he decided to lay out all his cards on the table or in this case his desk.

Dave started his interview with Bill O'Reilly by having Bill recite his resume that included Inside Edition, ABC News and CBS News. Dave then asked Bill about his holidays where Bill responded with, "I had a nice winter solstice". Bill then talks about how saying Merry Christmas is politically incorrect and list some examples including a school in Dodgeville, Wisconsin where the kids were made to sing a revised version of Silent Night (NOTE: Some Bloggers report this to be not true). Later in the interview Bill takes a swipe at Cindy Sheehan and the interview Dave’s tone shifts.

O'REILLY: And when people call them that, like Cindy Sheehan called the insurgents 'freedom fighters,' we don't like that. It is a vitally important time in American history. And we should all take it very seriously. Be very careful with what we say.

LETTERMAN: Well, and you should be very careful with what you say also.

O'REILLY: Give me an example.

LETTERMAN: How can you possibly take exception with the motivation and the position of someone like Cindy Sheehan?

O'REILLY: Because I think she's run by far-left elements in this country. I feel bad for the woman.

LETTERMAN: Have you lost family members in armed conflict?

O'REILLY: No, I have not.

LETTERMAN: Well, then you can hardly speak for her, can you?

You can read the whole transcript or watch the Video online. Please send me your thoughts. Since the broadcast I have seen Articles, Blogs and news shows covering the Letterman O’Reilly interview and it seems that those who are on the left are in Dave’s camp and those who are on the right are in Bill’s camp. Most people will judge the whole event on Dave’s one line.

LETTERMAN: I'm not smart enough to debate you point to point on this, but I have the feeling, I have the feeling about 60 percent of what you say is crap. But I don't know that for a fact.

Should Dave have said that? I have made no secret that I am not a fan of Bill O’Reilly so of course I enjoyed seeing Dave taking him down a peg. And since the interview it looks like Bill is getting some mileage from it. Perhaps Dave baited Bill on the Christmas topic but when Bill made his comment about Cindy Sheehan, Dave had to speak his mind and present an opposing view. It’s obvious that he was not playing devil’s advocate. Another thing comedians do is articulating what everyone else is thinking and Dave expressed what a lot of people would like to say if given a chance. Finally to those critics who say that Dave crossed the line and should have kept things light, I have to remind them of Dave’s post 9/11 show (September 17, 2001). Dave getting on the air and speaking his mind opened the door for every other comedian working at the time. This was also the show where an emotional Dan Rather apologized for not being professional on the air. Dave reminded Mr. Rather that he was a human being and I remind you that Mr. Letterman is also a human being.

To quote David Letterman (Speaking to Bill O'Reilly) "Yeah, but I think there's something, this fair and balanced. I'm not sure that it's, I don't think that you represent an objective viewpoint".

It is amazing that those that the public has a hard time taking seriously understands what it is to be fair and balanced better than those who consider themselves to be journalists are. Maybe that’s why many Americans choose to get their news from late night comedians.

Stay Tuned

Tony Figueroa

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Happy 2006

I was thinking about a classic episode of M*A*S*H (Season 9: A War for All Seasons). The episode opens with the ringing in of the New Year as Col. Potter says, "Here's to the New Year. May she be a damn sight better than the old one, and may we may we all be home before she's over".

I look forward to the New Year and I can't understand why some people want to be asleep in bed before the ball drops in Time Square. I guess some people feel that celebrating is like giving their seal of approval to the events of this past year. 2005 was filled with natural disaster, a real war, a war on pornography, and we ended with a war on Christmas (Even I on my Blog waged war with groups like Parents Television Council). Sure, I welcome the New Year, but I'm also reflective of the events of the past year especially those we lost. The sad news is that things won’t be the same again. The good news is that we can see to it that things won’t be the same again.

I encourage all of you to stay up, toast 2006, watch the ball drop and reflect on all the balls that were dropped this past 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 & Happy New Year.

Tony & Donna Figueroa