October 15th, 2008
11:41 AM ET

Mark Wahlberg's new catchphrase

A couple of weeks ago my colleagues and I were talking about the "Mark Wahlberg Talks to Animals" sketch on "Saturday Night Live", and decided it was one of the funnier ones on that week's show.

There wasn't much to it, but it was surreal and oddly hilarious nonetheless. Andy Samberg, spot-on as Wahlberg, well, talked to animals. After his one-sided conversations with some of the critters wrapped up, he'd move on with, "Say hi to your mother for me."

Fast forward to Monday night. I was talking to Wahlberg at the red-carpet premiere of his new movie, "Max Payne," at Grauman's Chinese Theater in Hollywood. After asking him a few questions about the film, I just couldn't resist: what did he think of being poked fun of on "SNL"?

Wahlberg smiled. "It wasn't as funny as the Sarah Palin skit - it's not quite that good - but it's flattering," he said. And, he added, "now I got a new catchphrase" - one, he observed, he's never said in real life. (Isn't that always the case? Cary Grant never said, "Judy, Judy, Judy" either.)

With that, Wahlberg thanked me, shook my hand, and told me to, you know ...

- Douglas Hyde, CNN Entertainment Producer

Filed under: Celebrities • television
October 13th, 2008
09:38 AM ET

Return to 'Folsom Prison'

“OK, we’re ready to do the record session. Are you ready?” asks Hugh Cherry, the Los Angeles broadcaster handling the announcing duties at Johnny Cash’s Folsom Prison concert.

“Now I need your help,” he says to the men gathered in the prison cafeteria. “When John comes out here, he will say - and which will be recorded - ‘Hi there, I’m Johnny Cash.’ When he says that, then you respond. Don’t respond to him walking out, welcome him after he says, ‘Johnny Cash.’ I’ll have my hands up, and you just follow me.”

“Are you ready?” he directs a question offstage.

“We’re ready,” says a voice, then a brief pause.

And only then, modestly, comes the phrase everybody knows: “Hello, I’m Johnny Cash.” And we’re off.

Such is the real opening of “Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison,” the landmark 1968 album that re-energized Cash’s career after a series of mid-‘60s setbacks. The album comes out in a 2-CD, 1-DVD “Legacy Edition” Tuesday.

In fact, that’s not even the REAL real opening - the concert actually begins with a short announcement from Cherry followed by performances of “Blue Suede Shoes” by Carl Perkins and “This Ole House” by the Statler Brothers. Moreover, as Cash biographer Michael Streissguth revealed in “Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison: The Making of a Masterpiece,” the famous cheer after Cash sings, “I shot a man in Reno/Just to watch him die” in “Folsom Prison Blues” was actually spliced in later by producer Bob Johnston.

So the “Folsom Prison” we hear, even in the new edition, isn’t the whole truth, is it? Or is it?

All I know is, the first time - hell, the 50th time - I heard Johnny Cash sing “I shot a man in Reno/Just to watch him die” I thought he was recalling an incident from his own life. Same with “Cocaine Blues”: “I took a shot of cocaine and I shot my woman down.” A man like Johnny Cash - he sounded like he’d lived that life. He sounded like a biblical prophet. He could make you believe.

That dark side wasn’t all to Cash, of course. Watch this video of him mocking Elvis Presley on a late-‘50s TV show: hilarious and true. He didn’t write “I’ve Been Everywhere,” wasn’t even close to the first one to record it, but he made it his own.

I could go on and on, and I already have.

Better to listen to “Folsom Prison” once again, this time with the second show (yes, there was a second show, recorded in case the first didn’t go well). Better to watch the man in action. Better to mark October 23, 9 p.m. ET, on your calendar for “Johnny Cash’s America,” a Bio Channel special devoted to the Man in Black.

“I Still Miss Someone,” goes the title of another song from “Folsom Prison.” It’s hard not to miss the towering Johnny Cash.

- Todd Leopold, CNN.com Entertainment Producer

Filed under: Music
October 7th, 2008
11:00 AM ET

A candidate you could believe in

Pat Paulsen knew where he stood.

“I am neither left wing nor right wing,” said the deadpan comic and “Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” editorialist during his quixotic run for the presidency in 1968. “I am middle-of-the-bird.”

Paulsen’s campaign, the subject of the classic mockumentary “Pat Paulsen for President,” was one of the few bright spots in that ugly year of 1968. The film makes up the final disc of a new 4-DVD box, “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour: The Best of Season 3,” which showcases the controversial variety show when it was at its height (and just before CBS canceled it after one too many run-ins with the network’s censors).

The DVD set is a mixed bag, with the brothers’ familiar comedy-and-folk music routines contrasted with both the sublime (some Bob Newhart monologues, the Ike & Tina Turner Revue) and the dated (the cast of “Hair,” Donovan at his trippiest). But “Pat Paulsen for President,” narrated by Henry Fonda (!) at his all-American best, still holds up.

There’s Paulsen on airport tarmacs in states such as Florida and Texas, praising the locals for their heartland values and attacking his home state of California … until he returns to California and disparages the rest of the country. There’s Paulsen offering to meet his rivals wherever they want: “I challenge [California Governor] Ronald Reagan to meet on his home grounds - the back lot at Warner Brothers.”

And, of course, there’s Paulsen at that most traditional of politicians’ events, the fund-raising dinner - in Paulsen’s case, a star-studded meal for 89 cents a plate.

(I have to wonder if William Safire was paying attention to Paulsen’s speeches. At one point, the candidate said, “Nay to the negative nincompoops who never nourished the nihilistic nerve to name a novice to nail down the nomination.” It’s a short jump from “negative nincompoops” to “nattering nabobs of negativism.”)

Paulsen failed in his 1968 run, as he did with his 1972, 1980, 1988, 1992 and 1996 runs, but his spirit lives on. “It is time to forget the petty bickering,” he once said, “and settle down to an old-fashioned mudslinging, name-calling campaign.” Modern audiences will no doubt relate.

- Todd Leopold, CNN.com Entertainment Producer

Filed under: television
October 3rd, 2008
01:12 PM ET

Not coming to a store near you

Two disc sets you won’t be seeing any time soon:

In the course of interviewing Tim Reid for the “Tim & Tom” article, I asked Reid about “Frank’s Place,” the terrific New Orleans-set series he starred in during the 1987-88 season. The series has yet to appear on DVD, and I wondered if Reid knew something about its future.

The news wasn’t good.

“Not with the cost of music clearance the way it is today,” he said. “It’s one of those issues that come along with the new world we live in.”

The same issues came up with one of Reid’s other series, “WKRP in Cincinnati.” Though the first season was finally released on DVD in 2007, many songs on the soundtrack were changed or cut entirely. The show still stands up, but without the original music, it can’t help but miss something. (And because of the music issues, none of the subsequent seasons have been released on DVD.)

“Frank’s Place” was unique for its time, and perhaps even for ours: a “dramedy,” as they used to be called, starring African-Americans in many roles, that was notable for its high-quality writing and refusal to engage in stereotypes (trust me: as someone raised in New Orleans, they portrayed the city very well). If it’s not coming out on video, perhaps an enterprising cable channel can have a marathon or something.

The Kinks box that’s coming out in the UK in a couple months? Don’t expect to see it in the U.S. - for now, anyway. I contacted a handful of record company folks and nobody knew anything about a U.S. release of "Picture Book."

As I mentioned in the previous post, the Kinks had a complicated U.S. label history. (They had a complicated UK label history as well, but anyway …) The group was signed by Reprise for the British Invasion years, left for RCA in 1971 and “Muswell Hillbillies,” turned to Arista in 1976, and then came MCA and Columbia in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Sanctuary has re-released some of the band’s classic ‘60s material, to mixed reviews, in this decade.

So if you’re wanting to get a copy of “Picture Book,” you’ll have to pick up the import. Unless there’s an American record company person who knows something I don’t …

- Todd Leopold, CNN.com Entertainment Producer

Filed under: Music • television
October 3rd, 2008
10:43 AM ET

Maybe Tina Fey does Sarah Palin TOO well

Much has been made of Tina Fey's impression of Sarah Palin on "Saturday Night Live," but even Fey probably didn't imagine that she would be literally confused with the Alaska governor and Republican vice presidential nominee.

In a recent "Saturday Night Live" skit, Tina Fey (left) played Sarah Palin and Amy Poehler played Katie Couric.

But that's what a Quebec City, Quebec, newspaper did when publishing an article about Palin earlier this week.

According to Isabelle Carreau of the blog TV Squad, the newspaper Le Soleil accompanied a story about Palin with a photo from Fey's most recent "SNL" turn as the candidate. The photo also included Amy Poehler, who played CBS anchor Katie Couric in the sketch.

In the caption for the Associated Press photograph, the newspaper wrote that Palin was clumsy and hesitant in her interview. (The newspaper published a correction Thursday with a photograph of the actual Sarah Palin.)

Fey's resemblance to Palin has given "SNL" a big ratings boost, as well as the boost from the viral video sharing of the spoof. And now the waiting begins for what they'll do Saturday with last night's vice presidential debate. (With all the Palin attention, I hope Fey is keeping up with her "30 Rock" responsibilities.)

- Mallory Simon, CNN.com Writer

Filed under: Uncategorized
October 1st, 2008
12:43 PM ET

The big voice

For me, the most effective scene in the 1987 movie “Less Than Zero” comes at the end. Right at the end, actually.

As the credits roll, over the terse drums on the Rick Rubin-produced track, Roy Orbison’s beautiful voice sings “Life Fades Away.” “I long to be at peace for-ev-er-more/Forevermore. Oh yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah,” he announces coolly, and then: “Life fades … a … waaaaay.” A crescendo, etched with pain and emotion, Orbison bringing it home.

The movie, for me, is a mixed bag: soulless, drug-addled L.A. youth talking past each other, with only Robert Downey Jr.’s performance enlivening the proceedings. But “Life Fades Away”? That’s the whole movie in three minutes and 41 seconds.

At the time I saw the film I remember thinking, Roy Orbison is back. Around the same time HBO had aired his performance in the TV concert “A Black and White Night.” Not long after came the Traveling Wilburys album, where he sounded as relaxed and effective as his younger colleagues. (And they - that is, Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Jeff Lynne and Tom Petty - were thrilled to have him.) And then, cruelly, just when his “Mystery Girl” solo album was about to be released, Roy Orbison died on December 6, 1988.

Orbison’s 30-year career is being celebrated in a new box set, “The Soul of Rock and Roll” (Monument/Orbison/Legacy), which came out yesterday. Here it is: the Western swing of the Wink Westerners, the rockabilly of Sun Records, the Fred Foster-produced dramas, the erotic growl of “Mean Woman Blues,” even obscurities such as “So Young,” which Orbison recorded for the 1970 film “Zabriskie Point.”

Bruce Springsteen often talks about being haunted by the “unearthly” (Springsteen’s word) sound of Orbison’s voice on the double-LP greatest hits Monument put out in the ‘70s. Jules Shear introduced one of his best songs, “Whispering Your Name,” with the dedication, “This one is for Roy.” (Get the acoustic version on “Unplug This”; Todd Rundgren’s studio sound of “Watch Dog” is all wrong.) Ringo Starr, who should know, once said, “Roy Orbison was the only act that the Beatles didn’t want to follow.” (The artists played together on a 1963 UK tour.)

What songs. What a man. What a voice.

- Todd Leopold, CNN.com Entertainment Producer

Filed under: Music
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