September 13th, 2009
09:33 PM ET

Backstage at the VMAs

Just found a spot in the "Blogger Room". Everyone looking for food and their spots. Missed most of the opening tribute, but a publicist just came by and said Madonna on her way.

Didn't see her on red carpet. Who knew she was here?

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.

August 7th, 2009
04:58 PM ET

Miley's new faerie tale: "Twilight" wannabe?

Considering the popularity of "Twilight" and the phenomenon it has launched, it stands to reason that others would try to replicate it. Hence, the recent profusion of young adult novels that, for lack of a better term, I like to call “Twilight Wannabes.” If you’ve walked by any major bookstore in the last year, you’ve seen them in the window display...books with titles like "Vampire Academy "("Twilight" meets Harry Potter?) and "Blue Bloods" ("Twilight" meets "Gossip Girl"?). Their covers even look like "Twilight"–black with a single image of a flower or fruit.

I love Stephenie Meyer’s series,  so I had studiously avoided the whole flock of what I considered her imitators. But when I heard that Disney bought the film rights to the latest Twilight wannabe – "Wings", by first-time author Aprilynne Pike – and had attached teen queen Miley Cyrus to star as the heroine Laurel, I decided that I had to give it a try. And to my surprise, I liked it. A lot. Probably more than the first "Twilight" novel (cue outraged gasps from Twi-hards everywhere).

In many ways, the story echoes that of "Twilight": a teenage girl moves to a new high school, only to become entangled in the conflict of two mythical species. This time, instead of the Cullen family of vampires and werewolves, the warring parties are trolls and faeries (I won’t spoil the faerie mythology except to say that it’s incredibly creative). Of course, Laurel quickly finds herself the center of a love triangle, caught between her reliable, human friend David, and the mysteriously sexy faerie Tamani. It’s easy to see why Disney snapped this one up. They’re targeting the "Twilight" audience, trying to do with faeries what Summit Entertainment – and HBO, and now the CW – have already done with vampires.

Which got me to wondering, will it work? Will Miley Cyrus and her costars be able to rival the famous onscreen chemistry between Kristen Stewart and Rob Pattinson? Miley, who’s made it clear that she wants to break out of the Hannah Montana mold, obviously believes so.

What do you think? Can faeries overthrow vampires and become the new phenomenon, or will the undead remain our favorite supernatural creatures?

–Katie McGee, CNN Entertainment Unit Intern

August 6th, 2009
07:35 PM ET

Martin: Hughes' script "best I ever read"

Here's what we do in entertainment news when we get word someone famous dies:

steve martin

1) Put out calls and e-mails to confirm what we are hearing

2) Gather all the related video and information about how they died and their body of work

3) Put out calls and e-mails to the publicists of those also-famous folks who may have known or have worked with the person who has died, to sort of put the reporting in larger perspective.

Usually, the publicist will return our official request with a short "statement" from the celebrity they represent. We get the star's words as filtered through the media handler.

About an hour ago, the publicist for Steve Martin wanted to know if it would be alright if Steve called me personally to reply to my inquiry and share his recollections and thoughts. Now, I realize he wasn't calling ME - Rachel - he was calling CNN, but suddenly don't I feel special? "Steve Martin will be calling me himself!", I bragged to my colleagues. "See if he'll play the banjo for you," someone said.

Then, came the call (number was blocked from caller ID of course), and I realized I was talking to a guy, who was rather shocked and saddened to hear that someone he really personally respected had passed on. At CNN we're not only often the first to break the news on air, but sometimes we're breaking news to those you wish you didn't have to tell - famous and not.

I think Steve called personally because he wanted to know what I knew, or what CNN knew, about John Hughes' death.

Here's what he shared with me and what we're reporting:

“He was such a great writer who created so many enduring characters for film, both as a director and a writer. His real gift was in creating these identifiable characters.”

“The script for ‘Planes, Trains, and Automobiles’ was the best script I had ever read. When I asked John how long it took to write it, he said, ‘I wrote it over the weekend’. The weekend. That shows you what he was able to do.” (Martin says the script for “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” still holds as the best script he has ever read and only film on which they worked together)

“He was funny from the start. You know he began his career writing for ‘National Lampoon’…. A piece called ‘My Vagina’. Very funny. Right from the beginning. If you haven’t read it, you should find it.”

Thanks, Steve. I just read it. He's brilliant. Thanks for taking the time.

August 6th, 2009
05:34 PM ET

John Hughes Gone

We just confirmed that director and writer John Hughes died. He had a heart attack while walking in New York City today.

All I can think, is "Wow". I strangely owe this man so much. "Sixteen Candles", "The Breakfast Club", "Pretty in Pink", "Ferris Bueller's Day Off". Genius. I can honestly say Hughes is single-handedly is responsible for most of my personal cultural touchstones and so many sayings woven into my permanent vernacular... "Beuller.. Anyone? ... Beuller?"  Hilarity. Still.
If you came of age in the 80's you have them too.
What are your favorite lines or unforgettable moments from a John Hughes film?

July 13th, 2009
04:43 PM ET

Mel's Jump The Shark Moment

What do you call a celebrity personal life equivalent of "Jumping the Shark"? You know, the precise moment in time when a much beloved TV show completely lost its mind. The phrase legendarily evolved from the "Happy Days" episode when The Fonz showed up on water skis.

 He with the magical finger-snap ability to turn lights off and summon girls; He who oozed cool with one vowel –"Ayyyyyy"; He whose image I chose over Donnie & Marie for my iron-on transfer t-shirt. THAT guy, we learned, was afraid of sharks? He faced that fear by jumping over one on water skis– wearing his leather jacket, no less. Ah, the drama. We the viewers sat in presumed suspense wondering if poor Fonz could work out his inner demons there on the lake. Neither I nor anyone else wanted to know The Fonz had demons. Fonzie, please no. I had t-shirts.

Which brings me to Mel Gibson. I prefer to remember the heroic Gibson of "Braveheart"– among my favorite films of all time. I wax nostalgic on the Mel of the "Lethal Weapon" movies with Danny Glover– funny, cool.  All the while, Gibson maintained such a respectable distance from Hollywood in his personal life. Married for decades to the same woman– Robin– a Hollywood outsider, he had seven seemingly law-abiding children, and appeared devoutly spiritual.

Then came the drunk driving arrest three years ago, the anti-semitic tirade, and a few curious movies. "Apocalypto" comes to mind.  The marriage fell apart publicly when Robin filed for divorce earlier this year. Nevertheless, I held out hope. Mel's still a talented, brilliant director, I told myself, personal life aside. 

Enter Oksana Grigorieva. Gibson's new girlfriend: classical chanteuse, stunningly, scarily beautiful, severely younger than he.  Oh, and she's pregnant. New today, her music video from her debut album, which was produced by Gibson. The song is called "Beautiful Heartache", Gibson, the svengali, directed the music video himself.
You can view it here:

Not to give away the money shot, but when the piano explodes into flames, I nearly cried.
Wherefore Art Thou, "Braveheart"?

Shark Jumped.

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