Saturday, June 16, 2007

Don Herbert AKA Mr. Wizard.

Before there were MythBusters, Beakman's World or Bill Nye, the Science Guy there was Mr. Wizard.

Watch Mr. Wizard aired on NBC from 1951 to 1965. The weekly 30 minute show stared Don Herbert as Mr. Wizard. On the show a boy or girl would come to visit Mister Wizard while he was performing some kind of experiment that was fun and educational. The experiments were usually simple enough to be re-created by viewers. The show was briefly revived on NBC from 1971 through 1972 as Mr. Wizard. A faster-paced version of the show Mr. Wizard's World, developed by Don Herbert, was shown three times a week on the cable channel Nickelodeon from 1983 to 1990. Episodes of Mr. Wizard's World were re-aired in 2005 on the digital cable channel The Science Channel.

Don Herbert was born July 10, 1917 in Waconia, Minnesota. His career as an actor was interrupted by World War II when he joined the army as a private. He was B-24 bomber pilot who flew 56 missions with the Fifteenth Air Force and participated in the invasion of Italy. When Herbert was discharged in 1945 he was captain and had earned the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal with three oak leaf clusters. After the war, Herbert worked at a radio station in Chicago where he acted in children's programs like It's Your Life (1949), a documentary health series. It was during this time that Herbert formulated the idea of Mr. Wizard. After Mr. Wizard was canceled, Herbert produced films for junior and senior high schools, wrote several books on science, and developed the Mr. Wizard Science Center located outside Boston Massachusetts.

In Mr. Wizard's last Interview for Wired News Mr. Herbert said, "Science is about the real world around us and it's filled with fascinating wonders". As a Child of Television Mr. Wizard was one of those few educational programs that was fun to watch. Mr. Herbert’s real legacy is not the TV show, but the generations of scientists who first discovered their love for science by watching his show.

Good Night Mr. Wizard

Stay Tuned

Tony Figueroa

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Algebra, Role Models and Fictional Characters Part 2: Paris Hilton.

I had an algebra teacher in college who wanted us to look at subtraction differently so as to better handle some of the algebra problems. He told us not to look at subtraction as "take away" as we were taught in elementary school. "Addition and Subtraction are the same thing. Addition is the adding positive numbers, while Subtraction is the adding negative numbers. It's the same thing" I can apply the same idea to role models.

The way I see it there are no good or bad role models. People can either be good examples on how to behave in civilized society or they can be good examples on how not to behave in civilized society. We grown-ups have choices to make in life. Paris Hilton made some bad choices. Paris Hilton was arrested Hollywood on Sept. 7th 2006 and charged with driving under the influence. She blew a .08 (In California, driving with a .08 blood alcohol level is the minimum level for DUI). She pleaded no contest to reckless driving and was sentenced to 36 months' probation, alcohol education and $1,500 in fines. On Jan. 15 she was pulled over by the California Highway Patrol. When she was informed that her license was suspended, Paris signed a document acknowledging she was not to drive. Then, on Feb. 27, when she was pulled over a third time a judge sentenced Paris to 45 days in county jail for violating her probation.

Being a resident of Hollywood (Where Paris was first arrested) and having lost a friend to a drunk driver I was very disturbed when I heard that Paris Hilton was released because of an unspecified medical condition.

Do the jails not have medical facilities? Paris like many others arrested for drunk driving seemed more interested getting out of trouble then showing any sort of remorse. Paris did do an Anti Drunk Driving Ad in Seventeen Magazine, but my cynicism tells me that was a PR move. Then again getting arrested is a good PR move for Paris Hilton because she lives in a world where there is no such thing as bad press. As a celebrity and I use that word loosely, Paris gets invited to do a P.S.A. as a way to work off her sentence. She also gets VIP treatment in our justice system. Now she will be under confinement in her 2,700-square-foot Hollywood Hills home, wearing an electronic monitoring ankle bracelet, for the remaining 40 days of her sentence. As I’m writing this I see on the news that she got some of her favorite cupcakes delivered to the house for free. Paris should be a good role model on how not to behave in civilized society. Instead she reaffirmed a long-standing belief that if you are rich and good looking you can get away with anything. Soon Paris will make money off of this situation. I see books, designer orange jump suits and official Paris Hilton jewel incrusted ankle bracelets.

Looking at the big picture I also see a problem that our society refuses to acknowledge and that is that Drunk Driving is a huge problem in this country. Here are some of Mothers Against Drunk Driving’s General Statistics. With that in mind I would like to give my closing quote to MADD’s National President Glynn R. Birch, "This is not hot. MADD is disappointed that Paris Hilton is not accepting the consequences for her serious actions. MADD believes everyone convicted of drunk driving should be held accountable and receive an alcohol ignition interlock device on their vehicle. A person typically drives drunk nearly 100 times before they are arrested, so being lenient with "first-time" drunk drivers does society more danger in the long run. A 5000-pound vehicle in the hands of a drunk driver is a weapon".

Stay tuned and stay safe.

Tony Figueroa
PS: It’s not over yet.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

The Late Great Studio 60.

Dear American Television Viewers,

Last fall I fell in love with a new show Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. I wrote in Never Judge a Show by it’s Pilot: Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip,

1. I liked what I saw and feel that more shows should be like this, not a copy of this show but something that goes along with the spirit of the above (Judd Hirsch as Wes Mendell in the show’s pilot) rant.

2. I also have to ask those who are accusing the show as being Anti-Christian to count all the Christian characters you see on TV. Then with your other hand count how many Christian characters are presented in a positive light on TV.

3. My hope is that Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip becomes the next great water cooler show. Unlike other water cooler shows where people just talk about what the characters did, here we can shift topic of conversation to the issues discussed on the show. This show could be bigger than The West Wing, if Aaron Sorkin is kept in charge and left alone to do his job.

My Hollywood Friends and I loved the show, but right after singing it's praises they would always end with, "It will do well in L.A. and New York but middle America, especially the Bible Belt wont get it". I would remind my Hollywood friends of my summer travels throughout Middle America with my wife Donna performing our show Guess Who's Coming To... at Fringe Theatre Festivals in Kansas City, Minneapolis and Indianapolis. I wrote about our travels in an article titled The people from Iowa where I stated,

1. This grouping of people was always empowered with setting the standard for what is acceptable in our creative pursuits and our dayjobs. Even though I know that there is absolutely no difference between catering to the mainstream and selling out to the lowest common denominator I want to have a marketable product.

2. We also mentioned that since we (Donna and I) both have the same commercial agent we would go out on calls together for McDonalds, Sears or some other American Institution. We’re there to read for the same spot. However when we arrive we’re split. Donna gets paired up with the Danzel clone and If I am seen as white I may be paired off with a Caucasian wife or if am seen as Latino I will be matched up with someone of color but there's a lot of cream in the coffee. The fine line between JLo and Beyonce. In the America of McDonalds & Sears, nobody marries outside of their own race. Why? Because someone on Madison Ave. feels that Middle America is not ready for us.

3. My point here is that we have come a long way and still have a long way to go. It might help us get there if the creative people on both coasts spend some time in the Fly-Over States instead of just pandering to them or who we think they might be.

When I defended the people from Middle America, The Bible Belt, Iowa, Red States, Fly-Over States or as Donna likes to call it, Oklabama, my Hollywood friends looked at me like I just drank the Kool-Aid.

Apparently my Hollywood friends were right and I was wrong about Middle America. Perhaps the talented people who I got to know on our tour represented a small minority of people who want to see good writing and acting on TV. Some don’t even watch TV. Maybe when Middle America saw Wes Mendell in the first few minutes of the pilot saying, "Ah, it’s not going to be a very good show tonight and I think you should change the channel. Change the channel. Right, right now. Turn off the TV ok" Middle America took him literally and turned their TVs off. Maybe Wes was right when he said, "There is a struggle between art and commerce. Well there has always been a struggle between art and commerce. Now, I’m telling you, art is getting its ass kicked. And it’s making us mean. And it’s making us bitchy". Perhaps Middle America didn’t want to see Hollywood bitch. Maybe Wes’s comment, "And the two things that make them scared gutless are the FCC and every psycho religious cult that gets positively horny at the very mention at a boycott" opened a Pandora’s box that put the show on so many hit lists that it was doomed from the start. Often being on numerous hit lists results in millions of dollars in free publicity, but this time it was not the case. Speaking of "psycho religious cults" I find it strange that we never saw the "Crazy Christians" skit on Studio 60, but the mere idea of a "Crazy Christians" skit outraged some religious people. Some religious people were offended by the depiction of a Christian character Harriet Hayes (Sarah Paulson) who was not their brand of Christian even though I know Christians in Hollywood just like her. I can’t blame Aaron Sorkin for doing what NBC wanted him to do. I do not blame NBC for taking the show off the air, I feel that they had faith in this project and gave it every possible chance. NBC will also air the remaining episodes on Thursday nights at 10 PM. I feel the blame lies with Middle America not knowing quality programming when they see it (I say this with apologies to the fans of the show who live in Middle America). I can’t help but take it personally after I defended Middle Americans to my Hollywood friends. This year several of my favorite shows were canceled (George Lopez, Crossing Jordan, Andy Barker P.I., Jericho and Raines). It’s hard not to take Studio 60’s cancellation personally either. All my life whenever one of my favorite TV shows was canceled I was told it was because nobody was watching it. Well I was watching, but my tastes were never in line with Middle America’s. I wonder if Middle America truly realizes the power they have.

To be fair and in the interest of full disclosure I did say in my article Never Judge a Show by it’s Pilot: 30 Rock,

"After attending various networking functions and constantly being told by many network comedy development heads all saying they do not want "Behind the scenes" shows (Please don't ask me to name names.), but every fall I still see new "Behind the scenes" shows. Some feel that this is because Hollywood's new young writers have never worked outside the entertainment industry so they write what they know. Others feel that those who work in Hollywood think that their lives and jobs are just so interesting that everyone in America will find their lives and jobs just as interesting (Again please don't ask me to name names.)"

Every fall we still see new "Behind the scenes" shows. Some of these shows hit and others miss. My wife pointed out to me that classic situation comedy The Mary Tyler Moore Show was more about the life of Mary Richards than a behind the scenes look at television newsroom. Perhaps we should study past "Behind the scenes" to see what worked, what didn’t and what shows were just ahead of their time. Or perhaps I am over thinking all of this. Maybe Middle America expected a behind the scenes look a late night comedy show to have more laughs.

To quote Tina Fey at the Writers Guild Awards, "I hear Aaron Sorkin is in Los Angeles wearing the same dress - but longer, and not funny."

Stay Tuned

Tony Figueroa