The Daughter Returns

Steffie’s home and on the sofa. She wasn’t feeling well last Thursday, so Helaine drove to college to pick her up and deliver her to the doctor.

When a student asks to leave her car at school and go to the doctor, you know she’s not feeling well! Thankfully, day-by-day, Steffie’s feeling better.

Finals at school were already done for her. Two papers still outstanding can be emailed to the professors. Modern life is good.

So now, in fine Stefanie Fox form, she spends a significant portion of the day on the sofa in our family room. The food is fresh and plentiful. There’s no fight for privacy in the dorm bathroom. There are no drunken freshman to pull a fire alarm at 4:00 AM.

“Do you have to sit there?” she will ask from time-to-time. It’s her spot. It’s easy to forget.

Having Stef home is a good thing. By and large, the three of us get along well. Even better, Stef is a playmate for Helaine and vice versa.

For me, the real advantage is anthropological. I get to watch what a twenty year old woman watches on TV. I am often dumbfounded by what I see.

A few seasons ago it was Laguna, then The Hills. This weekend Stef was watching a show about teens coming of age in Newport Beach. I’ve never felt so financially inadequate! I’m also embarrassed to say, I continued to watch for a while after she went upstairs.

Stef seems to gravitate toward reality shows. That’s what MTV and VH-1 have becoming – reality channels. There’s hardly any music on Music Television and few hits on Video Hits-1.

This is great for the network owners. Stef’s demographic is coveted and these shows are cheap to make. Advertising revenue is based on eyeballs, not program cost. The percentage of time devoted to commercials seems significantly higher than that seen on traditional over-the-air channels.

Along with Real World and shows I recognize are reality takes on ‘little people’ and heavily tattooed tattoo artists.

Maybe my age is showing when I say I find much of what she watches troubling. Of course, I also remember clips of crew cutted do-gooders saying Elvis Presley would be the end of us all. Please, don’t let me be one of them.

TV techniques are so sophisticated, I truly wonder how many of those who watch understand how little reality there is in reality TV… if there’s any at all.

The Future Of Television

I just watched a promo for a new VH-1 show.

Is Acceptable.TV the future? It might be!

It allows ‘amateurs’ to submit video content for a TV show – an idea (OK, a cheap idea) which is getting traction. It also combines TV and the Internet.

As Cory Bergman said on LostRemote:

In a nutshell, users upload their own three-minute mini-shows. The user shows are combined with

MTV At 25

Today is MTV’s 25th birthday. It has not been mentioned on MTV! More on that in a second. VH-1 Classic, a digital subchannel with vastly inferior reach, carried the flag with flashbacks to 1981.

By the time MTV came on, I was already in Buffalo, hosting PM Magazine. I was envious, to say the least. Alas, even by then, I was probably too old for MTV.

Today’s MTV isn’t anything like the MTV of 25 years ago. There’s little music on Music Television. Much of the day is spent in MTV’s version of reality.

This was all presaged. I’m sure this wasn’t the first time it was uttered, but Bob Pittman is on the record five years ago, on CNN, saying:

We made a decision not to grow old with our audience. It’s the Peter Pan network.

So, to today’s audience, the MTV of 25 years ago doesn’t exist… or if it does, it’s too closely related to their (unhip) parents to be mentioned. A 25th anniversary of anything isn’t very important when you’re 16.

I remember sitting home with Helaine, in Buffalo, waiting for the premiere of Michael Jackson’s Thriller video. It was a simpler time.

Over the past few years I’ve become increasingly uneasy with the lifestyle portrayals on MTV’s reality shows. I’ve called it soft core porn for teens. Maybe that’s an exaggeration – though not much of one. Certainly I was uneasy when my daughter watched them through high school.

I’d say more, but I don’t want to sound like an old guy railing at youth.

There are no more VJs – no more Martha Quinn or Mark Goodman. I suspect MTV’s still a major incubator of talent. It always has been. It is amazing to look at who’s gone far after leaving MTV.

Meanwhile, if you’re wondering about the originals, here’s a quick rundown from NPR’s Talk of the Nation.

Martha Quinn

After leaving MTV in 1990, Quinn stayed in television, working as both actor and anchor. In 2005, she joined Sirius Satellite Radio, where she hosts a weekly show, Martha Quinn Presents: Gods of the Big ’80s.

J.J. Jackson

Jackson returned to radio in Los Angeles after his stint on MTV. He was host for a number of successful radio programs before he suffered a fatal heart attack in March 2004. He was 62.

Alan Hunter

Since his 1987 departure from MTV, Hunter formed a production company, Hunter Films, with his brother Hugh and co-founded the Sidewalk Moving Picture Festival in Birmingham. He is currently a host on Sirius Satellite Radio’s 80s music channel.

Nina Blackwood

Blackwood

Hooked On Reality – Finally

I have missed the entire reality programming genre. None of it has interested me… and trust me, plenty of it has played on our TV, especially when Steffie’s been around. In fact, if you don’t watch VH-1, MTV and E!, you probably have no idea how much ‘reality’ is on every day.

While thumbing through the NY Times tonight&#185, I came across Alessandra Stanley’s review of Tabloid Wars. This reality show tracks what’s going on at the NY Daily News.

the series follows reporters and city editors as they scramble to cover hate crimes, cop shootings and celebrity scandals. At a news meeting a top editor asks for an article that is

Be Nice To Interns

I’m sure I’m not always nice to the college interns who spend time at the TV station, desperately trying to learn enough to take my job from me. Sometimes I am.

Obviously, there’s a story that goes with this.

Remember the VH-1 show “Pop Up Video?” Standard music videos would play, but they were overlaid in post-production with pithy little facts. In case you’ve forgotten, here’s Cindy Lauper’s “Time After Time,” PUV style.

When I first watched Pop Up Video, I was blown away. What a great concept.

The show ended with typical on-screen credits and a little logo for Spinthebottle.com, the production company responsible. This was in the early days of the Internet. I was surprised to note their web presence.

I opened a browser, found the site, figured out the email address of the guy in charge, and sent a complimentary note. It reached Tad Low.

Low wasn’t that long out of college and told me a story about his internship – as it turns out in a local TV station’s newsroom. One night the weather was rainy and the local weatherman offered him a ride back to the dorm.

Oh – I was the weatherman!

I had no idea. I didn’t remember doing that. I didn’t even remember Tad, who was a Yale student at the time.

I’m thinking about this because Tad’s in the paper today – in the New York Times for his show on Fuse, “Pants-Off Dance-Off.”

Tad Low, the show

Radio On TV

What has gotten into me? Here I am, a big city boy by birth and Saturday I was listening to the Grand Old Opry. Sunday night I watched “A Prairie Home Companion,” Garrison Keillor’s eclectic NPR radio show, which was carried as part of PBS’ Great Performance series.

Let me personally take this opportunity to thank viewers like you.

Of the three in my immediate family, I’m the only PHC fan. Helaine has heard enough to make up her mind – in the negative.

At age 19, Stef shouldn’t really know about the show at all. She was once subjected to a full performance as we drove from New York City to Connecticut on a Saturday night. I thought she was asleep, but she was awake enough to do a dead on Garrison Keillor impression for Helaine.

“To Al and Freida in Dubuque. Good luck with the hip replacement surgery.” And then, she took a deep, pre-asthmatic breath. It was scary to hear.

Prairie Home Companion’s audience does not watch MTV, VH-1 or E! If Stef never hears the show again, it will be too soon for her.

Watching radio is interesting… since it isn’t meant to be watched. When you want to hide something in radio, you’re just quiet about it. That doesn’t work when cameras are rolling. The stage is crazy with people moving in an out. Everyone is clutching a script.

I’m am surprised, maybe more disappointed, Garrison and his guests often hold their microphones. That is so wrong! They are supposed to speak into immense RCA ribbon condenser microphones with metal grillwork. They need mics like the RCA 44-BK or the RCA 77-DX.

Along with Sue Scott and Jim Russell, tonight’s cast included Fred Newman. Maybe you remember him from the very early days of Nickelodeon? He was the young guy (back then) with a full head of white hair. His specialty is sound effects – produced mainly with his mouth.

Oh – Meryl Streep was also on, and a natural as a radio actress. I was impressed.

I haven’t seen the Prairie Home Companion movie yet. It’s not Garrison, but my nearly unbroken history of disappointment with Robert Altman movies that keeps me from going.

The good thing about watching this radio show, broadcast on TV, on my computer (I recorded the show on my DVR and then transferred it over here) is, I can fast forward through the really slow parts. As much as I enjoy the show, there are plenty of really slow parts.

Kanye The Fish

How do you eulogize a fish? How can you summarize the seven months of Kanye, Steffie’s pet Beta?

There aren’t often outward signs that a fish is about to check out. Kanye telegraphed his upcoming demise. A few days ago he started doing laps around his little bowl, throwing himself at the glass every so often.

Originally Kayla, Stef’s college roommate, was afraid of Kanye. But how could the fear last, when Kanye was such a good companion who loved to watch VH-1?

He even forgave Steffie and Kayla for originally spelling his name Kayne!

Kanye enjoyed baths in the sink and riding in Stef’s car (in both bowl and plastic bag). He had lived a good life in the dorm, even surviving a near death jump to the bathroom floor, where he was rescued with two spoons.

The original thought was to give Kanye a burial at sea. When I looked at the pebbles in the bowl and then remembered our septic system, the plan changed. Kanye was laid to rest behind a pretty tree in our side yard.

In lieu of flowers, please make a donation to the American Sushi Foundation.

Spectacular Sunday In Southern California

When I went on Instant Messenger tonight, my friend Bob jumped in from Florida:

a few more blog posts, and i’ll begin to wonder if you’ll stay there

He is so right. Helaine, Steffie and I find this lifestyle and this place very appealing. I would go in a second.

Whoa! What am I doing? People at work read this blog. Don’t worry. Southern California is an obsession I’ve had forever.

Be quiet for a second. What do you hear? Nothing. No phone ringing. No offer. I came close with KCAL years ago, but I don’t think it’s meant to be.

So, we’ll continue to come out every year or two… continue to be teased by California… and life will go on happily in Connecticut.

As nice as California seems, my Connecticut life isn’t too shabby. After all, it affords me these trips to California!

Where were we?

We have stuffed ourselves like pigs on this trip. Every night has featured a spectacular dinner with appetizer and desert. There comes a point where enough is enough. That came this morning.

Instead of going someplace nice for breakfast, we decided to go to Starbucks and eat light. I had a bagel and coffee. Helaine and Steffie were similarly pedestrian in their meal.

We sat outside. It wasn’t long before Cleo, the dog, came and made friends with us. As we learned, her owner, now working on a movie in production, needed to give Cleo away. She was living in a place with no dogs allowed. Very sad, but we couldn’t bring Cleo back on the plane with us.

This was to be a shopping day. Before the trip Steffie had decided on some stores and some areas she wanted to visit.

I will admit it. She travels in a totally different world from me, especially when it comes to style and fashion. As I have learned during this trip, there are trendy stores, ‘celebrity’ stores, written up in People and US Weekly, featured on “E” and VH-1.

The names of these stores mean nothing to me, but to Steffie, this is a big deal.

We went to two or three of these ‘name’ shops on Robertson Blvd. in West Hollywood. While Steffie and Helaine browsed stores like Kitson, I walked the streets.

Actually, there’s a lot to learn.

For instance, just before the corner of Robertson and Beverly, there’s a sign warning that the intersection is “Photo Enforced.” Adjacent to a few of the traffic lights in the intersection are boxes with strobe lights and cameras.

Run the intersection, and you get a moving violation with photo showing you, the red light you’re running and other pertinent details! I saw it in action. Very sobering.

A block away from the shopping is Cedars-Sinai Hospital. There’s the Max Factor Pavilion, a center with Steven Spielberg’s name on it, and (just outside the hospital) the intersection of George Burns Road and Gracie Allen Drive!

This is Los Angeles, a factory town for TV and the movies. Getting your name out is everything.

Next stop for shopping was Melrose. I’m not sure why, but I gently begged off. I just didn’t want to walk into store-after-store-after-store.

Trust me. This is great sport for Helaine and especially Steffie. And I’d be right there with them if these were computer or camera stores. I dropped them off and decided to go on a search for the Hollywood sign.

I had done this before. There are places where the Hollywood sign is very visible, and then a block or two away, it’s gone. And, if you try and drive toward the sign, you quickly find none of the streets are parallel, nor lead in a single direction for more than a few hundred feet.

Nothing in my luck changed. I saw the sign, headed toward it and then lost sight of it. I got lost enough to end up on a ramp for the Hollywood Freeway with Burbank the first exit.

I got off and looked for a way to loop around and reverse course. Before I could get back on the freeway, I saw I was approaching Mulholland Drive.

Mulholland Drive is a twisty two lane road that runs through the peaks of the Santa Monica Mountains. The Santa Monica Mountains are what separate the ocean side of Los Angeles County from the San Fernando Valley (aka – The Valley).

Back in the 50s I used to watch The Bob Cummings Show. Bob, a perennial bachelor, would always talk about taking his dates to Mulholland Drive.

I turned onto Mulholland and it wasn’t long before I saw the entrance to a small parking lot. Immediately, I knew it was a scenic overlook. What I didn’t know was I had hit the motherlode for seeing the Hollywood sign! Not only that, the overlook also had an amazingly commanding view of Downtown LA and most of the west side of town.

I drove on, pulling to the side of the road a mile or so later for a view to the east of the entire San Fernando Valley. The sky was blue, the visibility was high.

None of these spots are for the faint of heart. These are steep mountains and the best view is close to the edge. In case you’re looking to get these vista, here’s my best guess of where I was!

I was excited at my find, but no longer had a reason to be on Mulholland. I drove to Laurel Canyon Road, made a left, and headed back toward Hollywood proper and Melrose Avenue in particular.

Melrose Avenue is where you go when you need something that looks good with your new piercings or to match the ink color on your tattoo. Whereas most of the parts of LA we had visited so far were pretty and well to do, Melrose Avenue is gritty.

I took a shot of a trash can filled to the brim, because I think it’s indicative of the Melrose feel. So are parking meters covered in concert posters and band stickers.

Amazingly, I found both a parking spot and Helaine and Steffie. As they continued to shop, I continued to shoot photos. This is a very photogenic street. And every ethnic, racial and socio-economic group is well represented.

Well, everything but middle aged white guys. I was the token.

We headed back to the Century Plaza to get ready for dinner. Tonight we were heading to The Ivy on Robertson, where earlier Steffie had shopped.

This was our fourth trip to The Ivy. There are two reasons for that. First, the food is spectacular. Second, there are always celebrities there – always.

Once I sat back-to-back with Martin Scorsese. Drew Barrymore walked by and stopped to talk with ‘Marty.’ The last time we were there, Steffie and Helaine saw Fred Durst of Limp Bizkit.

Tonight, our reservation was for 7:00 PM and we had requested to sit outside. Please, don’t be fooled. Outside in LA means under the stars, but adjacent to a propane heater. Even on a cool night, you’re nice and warm.

More importantly, from an outside table you get to see and be seen.

It didn’t take long for Steffie and Helaine to realize Cojo (OK – I called him Cujo, not knowing who he was), aka – Steven Cojocaru, was at a table nearby.

I’m not going to explain who he is because either you know him and are excited, or don’t and are a loser… like me.

Cojo was sitting at a table with a woman (unknown) and Al Roker, weatherman from the Today Show. As it turns out, I know Al. I’m not saying we’re best friends, but we know each other.

The last time I saw Al was at the White House in Washington. How many people can say that?

Years ago, Al made a very kind gesture to me, recommending me for a job that I didn’t even know existed, and I’ll never forget it. He is first class and one of a kind. He deserves whatever success he has… maybe more.

After dinner, I went over and said hello, and we chatted for a few minutes.

Helaine and Steffie felt the evening was a total success! I agree.

As always, the food was superb and the service attentive. We shared an appetizer pizza and I had linguine with all sorts of seafood. For desert I had ice cream and hot fudge over a pecan square. There were no leftovers from me!

By the way, the Ivy shots here on the blog are ‘stock’ shots taken in the afternoon. So as not to come off as a yahoo tourist, I was asked to leave my camera at home… and I did just that.

I’m probably not supposed to say this, because she’s very private about it, but today was Helaine’s birthday. Going to The Ivy was part of our celebration, and it lived up it our expectations.

Tomorrow is our last day in Los Angeles before heading to Palm Springs. We’ve planned a day at Universal. More tomorrow.