On Aug. 12, film director Tony Scott parked his Prius near the highest point of the Vincent Thomas Bridge in San Pedro, Calif. – the third-largest suspension bridge in the state – and turned on the emergency flasher. He then climbed 10 feet to the top of the bridge’s chain-link fence and jumped more than 160 feet to his death in the cold water below.
Most of the immediate news stories after his suicide mentioned his credit for “Top Gun,” which he directed and whose sequel he and star Tom Cruise had only recently scouted locations for. But that is very far from telling the complete Tony Scott story. He directed many films over the decades – none of them critical favorites, almost all of them enjoyable for their bravura action and vivid dialogue, sometimes immensely so. (His last baby, the runaway train fantasia “Unstoppable” with Denzel Washington, may well be the top gun in the admittedly limited roster of runaway train movies.)
Far more than that, though, Scott and his older brother, Ridley, ran a production company responsible for some of the brainiest TV of recent times, most notably “Numb3rs” and the current wonderment now on Sundays, “The Good Wife.”
“The Good Wife” returned for the new season last Sunday – a good episode in which Alicia’s teen son used the Internet to fix his own traffic problem and with an incident of rough sex that may or may not have been consensual (viewer’s choice, so far). As dramatic, smart and flavorful as it was, nothing quite compared to the show’s matter-of-fact final credit: The episode was dedicated to Tony Scott.
Immediately after Tony Scott’s act – a bravura suicide in its way that might have been at home in a Tony Scott film – there was much speculation that he had an inoperable brain tumor. It was even reported on ABC. Scott’s family vigorously denied it, nicely beclouding the whole issue and leading to the coroner’s not even ruling it a suicide until the toxicology report came back, even though there were five eyewitnesses to the act itself, all of whom called 911 and reported the obvious deliberateness of it.
What remains to be seen is what effect, if any, Scott’s suicide will have on one of prime-time network TV’s most acclaimed series. I’m almost sure the answer will be “none at all.” At the stage that “The Good Wife” is in, a TV series this good – even brilliant – is a well-oiled machine.
The problem of the show’s presence on what is quite possibly the most qualitatively overcrowded night in TV history was largely solved by all the premieres last week.
To wit: one of the shows – the new “666 Park Avenue” – revealed itself to be a bit of a stiff, meaning that no fan of “The Mentalist” or “Homeland” across the dial need suffer a simple pang, as long as there’s a DVR around. With “Revenge” and “666 Park Avenue” occupying an entire night on ABC,the two together turn the evening into Real Estate Night on Network Television.
Someone at ABC is clearly into “location, location, location.” On “Revenge,” we all get to watch people live in homes in the Hamptons that are well beyond the means of 99 percent of us. And then, immediately following, we get to watch young people get an upgrade to an impossibly large and luxurious Park Avenue apartment because the building’s head honcho (Terry O’Quinn, often caught by the camera in a demonic glower) is, in fact, a minion of the devil, if not Old Scratch himself.
Luckily, “666 Park Avenue” is not one of the prouder acclaims of the New Season on ABC. For that, by all means stay tuned to the network’s most praised new show of the season, “Nashville,” with Connie Britton and Hayden Panettiere, starting next Wednesday at 10 p.m.
Stray thoughts on Wednesday’s presidential debate: We should have known what was coming the minute Barack Obama and Mitt Romney greeted each other on stage. They were warm and effusive, but the president seemed to hold on to the hand of his Republican challenger for an extra couple of seconds while patting his forearm with his left hand.
Behavioral analysts and candid politicians will sometimes tell you that the left-handed forearm pat during a handshake is common mark of insincerity and condescension. Right from the git-go, I think the president had been caught in the act of taking his challenger too lightly.
From the first close-up, it was apparent that Romney’s gold American flag lapel pin was bigger than Obama’s. Forget all questions of sartorial taste. The challenger was loaded for bear. His presidential opponent was caught being prepared only to hunt squirrel.
This, as everyone saw, was how it went all evening.
Social media, to put it mildly, weren’t kind to POTUS. Comedian Bill Maher – who actually gave $1 million to an Obama PAC – was harsh in his joking tweets. Among those who couldn’t resist boxing metaphors, there were even those who claimed on Facebook that Obama was using Muhammad Ali’s famous “rope-a-dope” technique of covering up while letting opponents knock themselves out with pointless punches to a well-protected body.
Most interesting of all was Democratic Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz, whose Facebook comment ended, “I still think President Obama will win, but he certainly didn’t deliver a knockout punch last night.”
Among Obama apologists, there were even those who postulated that it was race that prohibited him from going after Romney, lest white Middle America catch a black American in the act of being aggressive.
Far more plausible, I think, besides the possibility of simply underestimating an opponent, was weariness from doing his job as president.
What we don’t know – and may never know, given the requisite secrecy of the office at times – is what the president had to deal with over the two previous days. As some TV news folks said, a mere candidate can prepare exhaustively for the first confrontation. An actual sitting president has to do his job, even if it becomes suddenly arduous at the most inconvenient time.
Romney was passionate and glib. Obama tried to be cool and thoughtful, but often came off disconnected and distracted. When Romney admitted – without being asked – that PBS was in his cross hairs, despite an affection for Big Bird and moderator Jim Lehrer, it was an opening big enough to drive a truck through.
I can think of any number of pols who’d have loved to debate a guy who admitted he couldn’t even support Big Bird.
Not Obama on Wednesday. He might as well have been Obama the Grouch.