One More Thing: Arnold Stang And Top Cat

What really surprised and depressed me was the writing. It was horrendous.

top cat cast.jpgWe live in amazing times. Arnold Stang dies (well, that’s not amazing) and I immediately go on a treasure hunt via the net to relive some of his work I enjoyed as a child.

Youtube is loaded with Top Cat cartoons. I chose Sergeant Top Cat (Part 1).

If this urge should come to you, don’t do it. Please. Let your memories remain memories. Don’t refresh them. Top Cat is not as good as I remembered!

This wasn’t a Saturday morning kiddie show. Top Cat ran in prime time on ABC, then mired deep in third place among the three networks.

I smiled right away because I recognized most of the voices. Of course Arnold Stang starred as Top Cat. Maurice Gosfield, who was Doberman on Sergeant Bilko played the same role here. Marvin Kaplan was also on as part of TC’s gang.

Marvin Kaplan is a guy whose name you won’t recognize but who’s been in dozens of TV shows and movies, always playing the same whiny, chubby, socially awkward guy. Trust me–to see him is to know him.

This cartoon was violent. Shots were fired indiscriminately. Bullets flew everywhere. The idea of suicide was used as the punchline to a joke! And the theme said Top Cat was the “indisputable leader of the gang.”

You’ve got to judge it by its era. Those things weren’t unusual at all in cartoons. It was a less enlightened time. It was still jarring to see today.

Top Cat was a prime time comedy with a laugh track! Isn’t a laugh track used to convince the home audience a studio audience was laughing as they saw the characters perform live? Hello? That worked? This was a cartoon! Were we that naive?

As with many made-for-TV cartoons Top Cat was minimally drawn with few ‘moving parts’ in any given frame. All colors were solid–no shading.

What really surprised and depressed me was the writing. It was horrendous. There was neither fun nor spark. The dialog and plotlne were insipid. This episode was so bad it’s tough to even describe!

Back in the 60s I though this was pretty good. Yeah, I was a pre-teenager when Top Cat premiered… still. I thought my taste was better than this.

On The Occasion Of His Departure: My One John Stossel Story

Nothing. He gave me the look you give a dog who’s soiled the carpet and then he turned away.

John Stossel is leaving ABC. From TVNewser (who claim to have broken the story)

John Stossel, the longtime ABC News correspondent and co-anchor of “20/20,” is leaving ABC to join Fox News Channel and Fox Business Network. TVNewser has learned Stossel will host a weekly, one-hour program for the 2-year-old business channel. He’s expected to signed a multi-year deal with Fox which will include regular appearances on Fox News Channel during daytime and primetime. He’ll also host four, hour-long specials on Fox News, much like the business/consumer specials he’d hosted for years on ABC.

john-stossel.jpgI have one John Stossel story. This was a long time ago and I was filling in on Good Morning America in New York. TV-2, their studio at the time, was squeezed into an old building on the West Side. You’d never know there was anything going on there if not for the double parked town cars most days.

I was heading from the studio back toward my (actually Spencer Christian’s) dressing room. As I rounded the corner there was John Stossel.

He was a big deal to me. There were lots of ‘names’ from the network and other boldface types who passed through TV-2 but there was something special about Stossel.

“Hi John, I’m Geoff Fox and I’m filling in on the weather this week,” was about what I said. I extended my hand.

Nothing. He gave me the look you give a dog who’s soiled the carpet and then he turned away.

Good grief. I was crushed.

In my few dozen trips through GMA it was the only time I ever met anyone who was less than gracious. It still stings.

His departure will be a loss for ABC which in turn means a loss for my station–I regret that. On a personal level, good riddance.

I Owe A Lot To Jack Reilly

“We all laughed in the control room,” he said. “Would you like to come to New York and do some fill-in for us?” he asked.

Jack Reilly passed away today. I can’t begin to tell you how much I owe him.

From TVNewser:

Jack Reilly, the former Good Morning America executive producer and later vice president of news at CNBC, passed away this morning at St. Vincent’s Hospital in New York at the age of 84.

Reilly was VP and managing editor of CNBC from 1994 to 1998. Before that, he was the executive producer of ABC’s Good Morning America from 1986 to 1994. Reilly transformed GMA, a faltering #2 show, into the nation’s top-rated morning show – a position the show held for more than five years.

reilly_jack.jpgThe time was the mid-90s and I was working here in New Haven. One afternoon our news director Liz Crane (now Liz Gray) asked me if I’d like to do the weather on Good Morning America/Sunday. “This Week with David Brinkley” was interviewing someone at Yale, had already asked for our satellite truck and then as an afterthought asked if we would also supply a weatherman.

This was a big deal to me and I told EVERYONE I knew to watch. Truth is, this kind of affiliate hit was nice but inconsequential to the network. You do it. Your friends and family see you. Life goes on.

The first hit followed an interview with tennis great Tracy Austin. She had just gotten married. While Dana King (I love Dana King) conducted the interview from New York Tracy stayed at home in a room full of wedding gifts.

Dana finished the interview and briefly introduced me. This was my chance to play it straight–just do the weather. I didn’t.

“Dana, if you talk to Tracy again, would you ask if she got the Corning Ware we sent?”

After the weather ended our sat truck operator ran out of the truck. “The producer wants to speak to you.”

Oh s**t. I was in trouble. I could feel it. On the other end of the line was Jack Reilly.

“We all laughed in the control room,” he said. “Would you like to come to New York and do some fill-in for us?” he asked.

OMFG!

I continued to be GMA’s go-to guy working weeks at-a-time until one winter’s day Spencer Christian got stranded on the West Coast. A lower level producer called and asked me to fill-in. I felt committed to do the day in Connecticut–a big weather day.

That was it for me. The GMA calls stopped. I have second guessed myself a million times on that call.

I aggressively pursued trying to get back in their good graces–but it didn’t happen. A few years ago I gave up.

I liked working at the network. What made it better was parachuting in while keeping this job. It was a very cool place to work–seriously big time with loads of people and pressure to perform.

Jack Reilly made that happen. It didn’t matter to him I was working in New Haven. He saw me. He laughed. He followed his gut.

Later on he was squeezed out at ABC. The show was never quite the same after that. Whether the Today Show passed GMA while Jack was there or after I can’t remember.

Jack Reilly is a lot of what TV was and no longer is. He will be missed. My condolences to his family and friends. Thanks Jack.

My 25th Anniversary At The TV Station

Sure, there will be more talented people. There might even be people who will stay longer–though that seems doubtful. But no one will ever be seen by audiences as large as we had in the 80s and 90s.

I remember driving back to meet Helaine after seeing Mike Sechrist in the spring of 1984. “I didn’t get it,” I told her. “They want someone older.”

I’d seen Mike hoping to fill his weather opening in New Haven. It wasn’t destined to be. But, surprise, I did get it–the weather job at WTNH.

I began May 21, 1984. Thursday was my 25th anniversary.

I can’t remember what kind of day it was when I started, but I do know I sat with Al Terzi, Gerri Harris and Bob Picozzi in front of a blank blue wall. We had no real set. All the backgrounds and frames were inserted using chromakey.

I did my first tease before my first weathercast saying a few words and ending with, “Well, how am I doing so far?” It was a line I’d first used on my first day in radio–probably stolen from someone much more clever. Gerri looked at me as if I’d just parachuted in from Mars.

In my 25 years she was one of two anchors who obviously ‘didn’t get me.’ Al, on the other hand, laughed at every joke I told–funny or not. What Al did was like comedy kindling and it helped establish me.

I have survived four general managers (with a fifth soon-to-be hired), ten news directors and scores of producers. I have outlived all the other on-air people at Channel 8 that day in 1984. Considering I’d bounced around radio for 11 years before getting to Connecticut that’s quite a feat.

I don’t know how it came about… these 25 years. It’s nothing you aim for. I seem to remember thinking of WTNH as a good stepping stone, not a final resting place. And yet I stayed.

For a while I filled in for ABC on Good Morning America. Maybe I thought the network would come calling–but they didn’t. So I stayed and stayed and stayed.

I built a very good life first for Helaine and then Stefanie. My parents moved to the area and then moved away. We set down roots. I tried to give back, especially with charity work.

You don’t go to work on day one hoping to stay 25 years. I certainly didn’t. It’s all one day at-a-time and then, all of a sudden, those days begin to add up. Prospective employers look at people who change jobs a lot as having baggage. Once you’ve stayed too long you’re looked at the same way.

There will never be another Geoff Fox in Connecticut. Sure, there will be more talented people. There might even be people who will stay longer–though that seems doubtful. But no one will ever be seen by audiences as large as we had in the 80s and 90s. That tonnage is gone. It’s affect is cumulative over the years.

I have a great job. I enjoy coming to work nearly every day. Even after 25 years no one will ever accuse me of phoning it in. I am a well defined personality and though lots of people like me, there’s also a sizable contingent who don’t.

No gold watch today, I got a plaque. I’m taking off Friday but I’ll be back Monday.

Our Lives Documented

Stef, your life is well documented. These can definitely be used for blackmail, so always be nice to your parents. We’ll consider this insurance.

We’re straightening up at home. Helaine has thrown some things out. Lots of organizing is still to come. It was VHS tape day today. Good grief we’ve got them by the dozens.

We have a VHS to DVD dub machine in the family room. I’ve only used it as a dubber a few times. It’s time to really put it to the test now!

I threw some unlabeled tapes in the machine. Helaine’s the only organized one of the three of us so they’re not hers.

Stef had recorded a few MTV shows. I came across an episode of the Osborne’s and a Rosie O’Donnell aircheck. I was represented with a TV story about the day I appeared on ABC’s “All My Children.”

There were lots of unlabeled family videos too. In one I am pushing Stef down our snowy though barely sloped driveway as she lies on a Flexible Flyer sled. She pulls the sled back to me while refering to it as “Sleddie.”

Somewhere, not found yet, there is a tape of Stef sledding on the Quinnipiac University campus. I’ll find it. This is a definite “America’s Funniest Home Videos” winner! As Stef pulls the sled to the top of the hill she falls and they both slide to the bottom. This happens three or four times–gracefully and always at the proper instant for perfect comedic timing.

We’ve also got plays from elementary school and her Bat Mitzvah. We were big with the camcorder.

Stef, your life is well documented. These can definitely be used for blackmail, so always be nice to your parents. We’ll consider this insurance.

Deep in the pile there was also a tape of Helaine and my wedding! We didn’t have the guts to watch it today. In fact Helaine has only seen parts of it and then only once. She stopped when her tears were too much to take.

As you might imagine there will be lots of dead people in this 25 year old tape, It’s possible it will be transferred to DVD sight unseen.

Photos Of The Folks I Work With

My co-workers were mostly in good spirits tonight. Few didn’t want their pictures taken. Many of those who did mugged as if they’d never seen a camera.

I brought “Clicky” to work today. For a variety of reasons it was a good day to bring a camera.

First, the ‘floor people’ were ripping out a few old walls. These were put in when we used to produce the Sally Jessy Raphael Show!

Behind the remnants of that set is a cinder block wall which was painted in a farm/computer/flag motif one summer around 20 years ago. Our general manager at the time made a deal with ABC to produce a handful of pilots for post-Nightline programming. None made it, but Joy Behar, Richard Belzer, Curtis Sliwa, Bobby Rivers and a host of others took turns trying something new in New Haven. That was a very cool summer.

Some of the people that briefly passed through that summer are surely ‘names’ now. I wish I knew which ones.

My co-workers were mostly in good spirits tonight. Few didn’t want their pictures taken. Many of those who did mugged as if they’d never seen a camera.

It was all very unusual for me since I seldom shoot people! I even used my Speedlight, mounted on top of the camera with an old alcohol bottle over it to provide some diffusion.

What’s posted is a representative sample. I took a lot of pictures. I love digital photography.