September 11th, 2009
08:02 PM ET

Larry Gelbart's thank you note

Larry Gelbart died this morning. If you don't know, he's the creator of  the TV show, M*A*S*H, most famously. But, there is so much more I want you to know about Larry. The man was a TV legend. Ask other TV legends. Ask anyone who writes comedy for a living. Not hyperbole. He was. And I will get no argument on that. Here's a quick summary of his credits: (I've bolded some personal favorites):

Better Late (play, 2008) And Starring Pancho Villa as Himself (2003) Bedazzled (2000)  C-Scam (2000) Weapons of Mass Distraction (1997)  Barbarians at the Gate (1993) Mastergate (1992) Blame It on Rio (1984) M*A*S*H” (1972-1983) Friends and Enemies (1983) Say No More (1983) Strange Bedfellows (1983) Run for the Money (1982) The Interview (1976) Tootsie (1982) Neighbors (1981)Rough Cut (1980)   United States  (1980) Movie Movie (1978) Oh, God! (1977) Three’s Company  (1976) Unaired Pilot #1 (1976) If I Love You, Am I Trapped Forever? (1974) The Marty Feldman Comedy Machine  (1971) Eddie (1971)   Comedy Playhouse” (1971) Ruba al prossimo tuo (1969)  Cintura di castità, La (1968) Not with My Wife, You Don’t! (1966) A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1966) The Wrong Box (1966)  The Danny Kaye Show” (1963)  The Thrill of It All (1963) Judy and Her Guests, Phil Silvers and Robert Goulet The Notorious Landlady (1962) Hooray for Love (1960) The Best of Anything (1960)  Startime” (1959) The Wonderful World of Entertainment (1959) The Art Carney Show (1959)  The Dinah Shore Chevy Show  (1958)  Caesar’s Hour (1954-1957) Your Show of Shows  (1950-1954)  Four Star Revue  (1952) The Red Buttons Show (1952)

Most notable career note for me: He was among the fabled writing staff for Sid Caesar's shows– a group which also included Carl Reiner, Mel Brooks, Neil Simon, Woody Allen, to name a few. He made TV comedy as we now know it.

Old soul me, started on a yackety yack about how they just don't make them like that anymore, and 'boy those were the days' of TV. (Honestly, even TVLand has gotten too 'new sitcom' for my liking. I miss the black-and-white TVLand. But that's a whole 'nother blog but at least you get a better sense of my cultural tastes)

This post is devoted to making sure you know that I believe what we see today on TV is there because Larry Gelbart was there first. When those Americans that had televisions in the 50's watched TV, "Your Show of Shows" was among the few things actually on. It's what we as a culture thought was funny and what happened on the show was next-day neighborhood and water cooler talk, when water coolers had those little conical paper cups.  If you've never watched them, find the old "Your Show of Shows". I defy you  to not think it's still LOL funny.

Perhaps, you're a fan of the old "Dick Van Dyke" show, the 'classic' 60's comedy where Carl Reiner, loosely based the storyline on his life as a writer for "Ceasar's Hour". That was the first TV program to base its characters in the workplace. All  shows before then really focused on 'situations' for characters at home. Point here is the writers' room on Caesar's shows was one place that basically launched most of what we currently find funny or entertaining. One show laid the groundwork for the next, and for the next and so on.

It's this little historical lesson that leads to my personal admiration for Gelbart in particular. He TAUGHT me that history in the nicest of ways.

It was 1999. CNN was preparing its big "Turn of the Millenium" coverage. I was the given the project to create a mini-documentary, "TV of the 20th Century". Larry Gelbart would be the ideal interviewee, I thought, as he could speak of TV from its beginnings through the 70's and how M*A*S*H changed the landscape. I called his agent, who connected me with Larry directly, because, the agent said,  "Larry wants to know what exactly this project is, before he agrees to an interview". After we spoke for nearly an hour, in a pre-interview, I felt like I had struck historical story-teller gold. Imagine a funny great uncle. Now make that uncle a guy Bob Hope once offered Sid Caesar, "I'll give you two oil wells for one Gelbart". The funniest of the funny cracked up in his presence. We did the interview at his home in Beverly Hills, where he welcomed the crew and the field producer with open arms. The field producer came back and said, he was one of her most memorable interviews. All I could say is "I KNOOOOOW, Right? What a nice, nice man". He provided so much information perspective and context to my piece and the research for it, that he became what I call the 'thread' of the story.

Cut to, days after the piece airs. I receive a personal hand-written note on his stationery, telling me how proud he was to be part of the piece and that it was well done. He said I could include him in anything I wanted to do anytime. "Thank you for letting me participate", it said. The man who basically CREATED television writing, in my eyes, had taken the moment to tell a young CNN producer that she had done a nice job.

That note stayed on my wall until we moved into fancy offices uptown. It's currently stored away at home. When we got word today he died, and we were trying to confirm, I got a sinking feeling in my gut. I knew I had his home number in my old rolodex. Like, yeah, the spinny old ones. I pulled it out and told my colleagues I could probably call the house, but I don't want to.  I decided I could, because if I spoke with his wife Pat, perhaps I could tell her how his influence and kindness really defined my career. He was the interviewee from whom I learned SO much and realized what I could do with the information creatively.  It was a career-affirming interview. Pat actually said, "How nice of you to call. Thank you". Really she said that. Here I was calling from the media to confirm her husband's passing and she says, "Thank You". In so many ways, Larry Gelbart was someone I revere. His historical significance has been written. His (and his wife's) particular kindness is what I just want others to know. His humor only surpassed by his kindness.

Were you a fan of Gelbart's writing? Let's hear what you know about tv history and Gelbart's role in it.

September 11th, 2009
04:33 PM ET

Toronto: Early bird doesn't catch the fox


I heard recently that the acronym “OMG” has officially been added to the English dictionary. This is great news because I had one heck of an OMG moment ealier today. You see, when you’re in the throes of covering a major entertainment news event, like the Toronto Film Festival, you’re likely to encounter at least one, if not more, scheduling errors. It’s only human, right? Numbers get transposed, press events change, and sometimes, just sometimes, sit-down interviews with the entire cast of a major motion picture are actually on a different day than you think.

I’m scheduled to interview the cast of “Jennifer’s Body,” including star Megan Fox, tomorrow, not today. Oh my goodness, is right. But rather than think of this as a mistake, I like to think I showed up to Toronto’s Park Hyatt Hotel nice and early – 24 hours early, where I got an exclusive advanced peak at this poster.

Needless to say, an appropriate blog based on an actual interivew with Fox will be posted tomorrow.

As for tonight, I’m attending the red carpet premiere and after party for ”The Men Who Stare at Goats” starring George Clooney, Kevin Spacey and Ewan McGregor. Follow my moment to moment updates on twitter at:

September 11th, 2009
03:20 PM ET

'Housewives' great...on 'Ellen'

As far as I am concerned, Bravo could have run the episode of the "Housewives" on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" instead of Thursday night's episode.

The five cast mates reportedly taped the show on Tuesday and Kim and Sheree got into it.  Sheree kicked it off my calling Kim a "habitual liar" and Kim responded by going off about Sheree allegedly bouncing checks.

Initially, the new judge of "American Idol" seemed amused, but she quickly realized she lost control when Sheree started calling Kim a "prostitute. "  Ellen had to eventually crawl between them before the women played blindfolded, musical chairs to Kim's new "single" "Tardy For The Party."

The whole thing was way more entertaining than Thursday night's episode, which focused on Lisa's fashion show, Kim's new wig line and NeNe's attempts to get her son to get his act together.

I was amused by Kim's assertion that she wanted her wigs to be "volumptious."

How was the show for you?

September 11th, 2009
12:43 PM ET

When models rule 'Runway'

Editor’s note: This post contains spoilers for the Thursday, September 10th episode.

The models took over last night’s “Runway” and I was bored before the designers even made their way to Mood. There’s practically no backbiting, no crazy challenges, no Michael Kors…if they keep this up, I may have to switch allegiances to Bravo’s poorly done “The Fashion Show.”

project runway

As one commenter pointed out last week, it’s obvious the producers are trying to get “Runway” lovers on board with the spinoff show, “Models of the Runway,” and I’ll be honest: I couldn’t care less about the models.

They’re cool girls, but I watch “Runway” to see how well the designers can craft a masterpiece with $100 and a day’s worth of sewing and to be entertained by the crazy - not to become acquainted with Heidi Klum wannabes. That’s what that other modeling show is for.

A challenge based on the whims of the runway stompers could only yield less than interesting results. Hello? These girls are paid to be blank slates, not visionaries. What resulted was a bunch of aimless designs that ended up as off the mark mini-dresses and one very unfortunate Smurf prom dress.

The two standouts were Carol Hannah (who totally should’ve taken the win) and Althea, who is one of the few consistently strong designers. The only reason I’m knocking her mini-bubble-skirt suit combo is because her model worked that outfit and therefore deserves some credit for its awesomeness.

On the bottom we once again had Qristyl and pretty boy Logan, who’s the sequel to season one’s Robert Plotkin but with a hint more talent. He uses his looks to squeak by at judging just like Robert did, as last night’s sparkly outfit proved.

Who do you think was a hit and a miss last night? Are you as tired of these wack challenges as I am? Let us know.

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Filed under: Project Runway • television
September 11th, 2009
09:57 AM ET

Your pop culture cheat sheet

Here's what's going on in the world of entertainment today:

  • In response to Wednesday's announcement that Ellen DeGeneres would be the newest judge on "American Idol," Paula Abdul tweeted, "I think Ellen will b a gr8 judge on Idol. She is wildly funny, talented and I wish her the best of luck!"
  • Maura Tierney ("ER," "NewsRadio") has had to drop out of the cast of NBC's upcoming series "Parenthood" due to conflicts with her breast cancer treatments, according to The Hollywood Reporter. The beginning of production had been postponed to November when she first announced her diagnosis. Expressing regret that Tierney would not be able to take part in the show, her spokeswoman said, "Ms. Tierney and her doctors remain confident that the outcome of her treatments will be positive."
  • Will Smith, Charlize Theron and Jason Bateman are all on board for the planned sequel to last year's hit "Hancock," according to Variety.
  • Speaking of superhero movies, Variety reports that Rainn Wilson, Ellen Page and Liv Tyler will star in a spoof of the genre called "Super." Wilson will play a wannabe-costumed hero who lacks superpowers.
  • "Big Lebowski" fans, rejoice: Jeff Bridges may be back with the Coen brothers for their remake of the John Wayne classic "True Grit," Variety reports. Bridges is currently in discussions to play Wayne's character.
  • In theatres today: "Tyler Perry's I Can Do Bad All By Myself," "Whiteout" starring Kate Beckinsale, and the latest horror remake, "Sorority Row."
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