The Buffalo News - Entertainment Columns Latest stories from The Buffalo News en-us Fri, 11 Jul 2014 03:38:57 -0400 Fri, 11 Jul 2014 03:38:57 -0400 <![CDATA[ Channel 7 would be wise to follow a new path as it looks to escape the ratings basement ]]>
Breaking news! Breaking news! I pretty much know what is in the online research survey that Channel 7’s new owner, E.W. Scripps, is taking.

OK, I’m not about to print all the details. That would be bad manners. But I can report that it is asking about all the TV anchors in the market and not just its own station.

It also is asking what people think about the importance of being first on the scene of breaking news.

I wish I could see the results of that question because the term “breaking news” has become a bit of an industry joke, a “Saturday Night Live” skit waiting to happen. That is especially true when it pertains to minor car accidents or fires.

I hear there also is a question about the importance of money-saving tips, a category that Matt Granite has owned on Channel 2 even though he works at another Gannett station in a money-saving move.

The most attention-getting research question concerned where people would see former Channel 2 morning anchor Jodi Johnston working if she returned to TV.

That would seem to indicate that Channel 7 is interested in Johnston. However, she told me she’s happy in her job at First Niagara and isn’t interested in returning to TV. I believe her.

The question indicates that Scripps might consider bringing back former popular anchors in the market in the hope of getting Western New Yorkers to give its low-rated newscasts another look. It wouldn’t be the first time that stations looked to former Wester New York favorites to bring in viewers. Susan Banks, Don Postles, Kevin O’Connell and John Beard are among the anchors who left town for awhile, only to return at different stations.

However, I wouldn’t go back to the future if I were Scripps; I’d go the route of Buffalo Sabres General Manager Tim Murray and look for new, younger skilled people balanced with veterans and avoid the past.

Channel 2’s resurgence came with anchor Scott Levin, who was unknown in this market when he arrived from Richmond. Channel 4’s impressive new meteorologist Todd Santos never worked here before, and anchor Diana Fairbanks was getting a lot of positive attention before she left last week to go back to Michigan.

Stations are just as likely to make new fresh anchors popular with time as former Western New York anchors are likely to make stations popular.

Besides, Channel 7’s biggest need is a veteran male anchor – maybe in his late 30s or early 40s – to become Keith Radford’s eventual replacement. It needs to hire one, since there is no one on its staff that could fill that role.

• You may recall that the initial reports had Channel 4 doing very well in household ratings for the May sweeps and Channel 2 not so well.

Then the demographics arrived and reversed that idea.

While Channel 4 had much stronger household ratings than it had a year ago in May and won the 6 p.m. newscast in that category for the first time in six sweeps, Channel 2 won big in the age 18-49 and age 25-54 in all time periods that the stations competed on their own stations. It was a big demographic winner at 6 p.m.

And advertisers care about the demographics only. They don’t buy households ratings.

The figures seem to reinforce the idea that Channel 4’s news presentation is too dull to attract younger viewers. It might start by changing the opening and hiring a new unseen voice announcer with a little more life.

• Speaking of Channel 4, it sure has been slow to fill sports and weather openings. The old reliable weather fill-in, Keith Eichner, found his way back on weekends after Bryan Shaw was let go. You would think Channel 4 would hurry and hire a third sports reporter before the Bills training camp starts.

You could start a pool on how long it will take to replace Fairbanks on the 5:30 and 10 p.m. newscasts. Channel 4 usually seems perfectly willing to tire out Postles and Jacquie Walker until it finds a 10 p.m. replacement.

• I’ve never seen as much Twitter and Facebook love as I read when Buffalo News reporter and former WBEN reporter Brian Meyer was named to replace Jim Ranney as news director at WBFO. People on Twitter aren’t known for their kindness, so all the props to Meyer say something about his work ethic and skills.

• It is hard to understand why ESPN insisted on counting a 30-minute pregame show in its Nielsen national ratings for United States games in the World Cup since it lowered their average. However, one TV expert told me that the pregame is the only time besides halftime when ESPN sells advertisements because game action never stops. And the sole reason for ratings is to sell ads. Sports Illustrated reported that the reason that crowds at bars and other public venues aren’t counted by Nielsen is because advertisers won’t pay for that data. I understand why: People in bars and at venues like Canalside can’t really hear the advertisements and don’t care about them.

• I can’t wait until one of WNYO’s digital channels begins carrying a new movie channel, getTV, that shows classic films. The only time I watch WNYO now is when it carries “Modern Family” reruns.

• The introduction of Vidbolt – the locally invented social media site that allows viewers to post their thoughts next to live video feeds – on WNED’s Frederick Law Olmsted documentary sure seemed to be a strange marriage. You would think that having your attention divided might contradict the show’s message about the joy of stopping at the parks to enjoy the roses. Besides, WNED typically attracts older viewers who don’t want to multitask. I hope Vidbolt gets another shot on a more suitable program .

• I make mistakes sometimes when I blog. Usually, I catch them quickly. In a blog last week about the popularity of soccer, I briefly noted that I had heard the revolutionary soccer song before and mentioned the time that Brandi Chastain took off her sports bra. I quickly corrected it to the time that she took off her shirt to reveal her sports bra. But I wasn’t quick enough to prevent at least one reader from seeing the error. Former Channel 4 anchor Mylous Hairston sent me a gentle, funny message on Facebook: “I can only imagine the popularity of the game in the country if she had taken off her sports bra!”

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Sun, 6 Jul 2014 11:56:06 -0400 Alan Pergament
<![CDATA[ Miley Cyrus and other subjects of runaway gossip in the Global Village ]]>
OK, I get it.

I’m still on Miley Cyrus’ side, as I’ve been saying for a while now.

The Disney Channel’s former Hannah Montana, who publicly transformed herself into the tongue-waggling, twerking scourge of American middle-class propriety, has a two-hour concert special at 9 tonight on NBC called “Miley Cyrus: The Bangerz Tour – Barcelona and Lisbon.”

I wish her luck.

I seem to be in a bit of a generational and occupational minority in that respect. Her reputation has been relatively quiet for a while – ever since, in fact, her birth certificate told everyone that, legally speaking, she had become an adult. She’s barely old enough to buy a six-pack of Guinness in a New York State supermarket, but she’s old enough to wear costumes so tight that some of the ruder wags around have had many unchivalrous public thoughts about what they revealed.

She is, as I’ve been saying for a while, a show-business kid. And they do grow up a bit differently, those showbiz kids – as we all know. When show-business kids rebel, they do it in a showbiz way and, with special malice, against showbiz forms of hypocrisy. And, in America’s current Entertainment Industrial Complex, who better for someone like Cyrus to rebel against than the Disney Corp. that so successfully sold her to all those kids and parents as the clean-cut, wholesome Hannah Montana, a sort of wiseacre female Ricky Nelson for the 21st century.

But then she waggled her tongue lewdly and twerked so enthusiastically into Robin Thicke’s midsection during a now-legendary video awards show appearance, that the onlooking Smith family – Will, Jada and the kids – weren’t the only ones shocked.

Shock and outrage of the phoniest, cheapest and least significant kind have become the everyday agenda in our new Internet and 24-hour news cycle world.

When Marshall McLuhan first conceived of the Global Village that electronic media created, he was – as was his wont with his lightning flashes of genius – merely anticipating by some decades what would become almost literal in the Internet Age.

Everything that happens to anyone putatively “famous” can become the instant fodder for shock and disparagement over the cyberspace version of the back fence. It really is a Global Village now.

Did you see what Miley Cyrus did to Robin Thicke? Did you catch her pretending to toke it up in a European concert? Did you see that costume? What does her Daddy say? What does her godmother Dolly Parton say? How many gossip websites and infotainment shows can we get it on, anyway?


She is, of course, not alone. In the world of backfence tsk-tsking, everybody is a visible target.

Did you see what Gary Oldman said to Playboy when he tried to defend Mel Gibson? Did you hear what Jonah Hill angrily called that paparazzo who wouldn’t leave him alone?


Both had to go on late-night talk shows and make public apologies so fulsome that it might have been better if they hadn’t bothered.

A few more of those and the whole idea of public apology will become as hopelessly old-fashioned as the rotary dial telephone.

But then what we all need to remember always is that these are all – ALL – problems of hype.

Gary Oldman’s Playboy interview was, no doubt, intended as part of the marketing of the next “Planet of the Apes” movie in which he stars and which opens Thursday night.

Hill, when he hurled a garden variety gay slur at a bedevilling paparazzo, had to apologize serially as a prelude to doing the requisite publicity roundelay for “22 Jump Street,” whose yuk-it-up audience probably couldn’t have given less of a fig what he called anyone, much less a paparazzo trying to drive him crazy and photograph a surly reaction which the paparazzo could then sell handsomely on the open market.

Cyrus’ offenses against the Will Smiths of the world are nicely timed with the releases of her discs and the launching of her concert tours.

What seems to me self-evident about everything we know about her is that the kid seems to have a solid head on her shoulders amid all her adolescent transgressions against bourgeois propriety.

All she has thus far been doing, really, is following the game plan developed by those, like rock supermanager Shep Gordon, who in the film “Supermensch” explained coolly how he made a major figure of Alice Cooper. “We knew that if we could get the parents to hate you, the kids would love you.”

A lesson Cyrus understands right down to her size 6 Keds.

What you won’t find her doing to the consternation of the international constabulary – not to mention the Internet marauders – is traveling around with a sizable terrorizing entourage determined to test the plasticity of the international legal system.

In an era where actual American states have joined European countries in deciding that weed is perfectly legal, she could go on stage and fire up a blunt the size of the Hindenburg without really awakening the peevish vigilance of Interpol and American customs.

Justin Bieber – to take another example of star constantly on the Internet’s tsk-tsk circuit – is another kettle of misbehavior altogether. But then, I suspect you could take the IQ points of Bieber and everyone else in his entourage and fit them in Cyrus’ navel (and still have room left over for Bieber’s songwriting talent).

The latest young doofus in an apparent rush to confirm his status as police blotter smudge waiting to happen every time he walks out the door is Shia LaBeouf, whose response to the opening of a new film (the much-dreaded “Transformers 4”) in a franchise that once paid him so handsomely was to get himself arrested and detained for a whole evening after engaging in what an anonymous poet in the New York Daily News tenderly referred to as “a fall-down drunken night of bottomless rudeness.” (It was, I hasten to add, LaBeouf’s rudeness that was bottomless and not the actor himself). He was doing it, get this now, at a performance of “Cabaret.”

Compared to all that, Cyrus is merely a hard-working, world-touring pop music professional with a highly advanced satiric sense of humor and every right to corral two hours of Sunday prime time on a major holiday weekend.

There is nothing in the Cyrus dossier that would, I think, cause a second’s dismay or confusion in McLuhan or Shep Gordon.

In their spirit, let’s simply anoint her the newest incarnation of Madonna and Lady Gaga and say that she’s one ambitious young figure who has figured out exactly how tiny the Global Village really is.

I submit to you that at this stage of her career, Cyrus has precious little to learn and a great deal to teach a lot of people.

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Thu, 3 Jul 2014 23:17:19 -0400 Jeff Simon
<![CDATA[ Jeff Miers' top 10 songs for Fourth of July ]]>
Sometimes, if you listen closely, you can hear the country groan. It’s weary, but unwilling to admit it. It wants the tumult to cease. It defines “progress” as our ability to get along with each other, to acknowledge and accept differences, for the greater good. And it’s afraid we’re not quite getting it right.

As ever, America is not so much divided as endlessly subdivided.

Thinking about all of this, I’m scared, frankly. It makes it difficult to enjoy my Fourth of July barbecue with a clean conscience. Aren’t we glossing over a few things here, people? Or am I just overthinking this?

Whenever I wander into such a fugue state regarding this wonderful but flawed country, I tend to rely on music to show me the way out of the maze. Some of our greatest American philosophers have been songwriters, after all. The benefits of working in the area of poetic abstraction, as opposed to political doctrine, are many. One of the most obvious is the ability of abstract poetics to hint at the heart of things without having to be overtly explicit about it. I like this. It feels far less dangerous. Whatever your personal, political or spiritual beliefs may be, the odds are high that you have bonded over music with someone whose beliefs are entirely different than your own. That’s one of the many gifts that music gives us.

How one chooses to express their love for their country is one’s own business, but one thing is certain: True love admits complexities. It doesn’t merely attempt to brush those complexities beneath a star-spangled carpet. So it stands to reason that some of the greatest songs written about and for America are also the most complex.

That said, while attempting to craft my Fourth of July play list this year – duly aware that I don’t really want to be a buzz-killer – I decided to straddle the fence. Some songs would deal with the complexities inherent to living in this country. Others would simply be party anthems. One might even explicitly mention hot dogs and hamburgers.

As the great American poet Bob Dylan once said, “It’s all good.”

1) “I Am A Patriot,” by Little Steven

“I am a patriot, and I love my country/because my country is all I know/I wanna be with my family/and people who understand me/and I’ve got nowhere else to go.”

Yeah. Tough love.

2) “4th of July,” by Soundgarden

It can’t be rainbows and puppies all the time.

3) “U.S. Blues,” by the Grateful Dead

“Wave that flag! Wave it wide and high!”

4) “Long Walk Home,” by Bruce Springsteen

Doggedly clinging to what it was all supposed to mean, and holding to faith that it might one day mean that again. Springsteen wrestling with the big questions, because he cares.

5) “American Girl,” by Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers

Just because it’s a great tune.

6) “Independence Day,” by Ani DiFranco

“We drove the car to the top of the parking ramp on the 4th of July/We sat out on the hood with a couple of warm beers and watched the fireworks explode in the sky,” DiFranco wistfully begins this tune, before delving into the ugly underneath. Powerful and poetic.

7) “Hot Dogs and Hamburgers,” by John Mellencamp

I’ll have one of each, please.

8) “America the Beautiful,” by Ray Charles

There is so much emotional complexity in Ray’s delivery. My vote for the greatest reading of a patriotic tune ever recorded.

9) “Born in the U.S.A.,” by Bruce Springsteen

Feel free to just sing along with the choruses. The verses are pretty tough. A deep song, and a thoughtfully patriotic one.

10) “American Tune,” by Paul Simon

“We come on the ship they call the Mayflower/We come on the ship that sailed the moon/We come in the age’s most uncertain hour/and sing an American tune/But it’s all right, it’s all right/You can’t be forever blessed/Still, tomorrow’s going to be another working day/And I’m trying to get some rest.”

Yes. Exactly. It’s not perfect. But it’s ours.

Happy birthday, America!

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Thu, 3 Jul 2014 10:31:23 -0400 Jeff Miers
<![CDATA[ Younger WNY viewers are flocking to Fallon on NBC ]]>
Channel 2’s household ratings at 11:35 p.m. only went up 10 percent to a 4.4. But Fallon’s ratings among viewers 18-49 more than doubled and they almost doubled in the 18-34 and 25-54 categories as well.

Interestingly, his 25-54 numbers were more appealing among females. He more than doubled Leno in that category, while his numbers with men were only about 20 percent higher. The word “only” should be in quotes because a 20 percent gain is pretty impressive.

Fallon’s rating in the 18-34 category is six times what “Late Show with David Letterman” receives on Channel 4 and Fallon’s 18-49 rating is almost twice that of Letterman. It isn’t as if Letterman is doing that badly in demographics as he approaches the end of his run before Stephen Colbert takes over in search of younger demographics. Letterman’s ratings in the age 18-49 category grew about 45 percent here from a year ago and he almost doubled his 25-54 rating.

Fallon’s 18-34 rating also is six times that of Jimmy Kimmel on Channel 7, his 18-49 rating is about five times higher than Kimmel and his 25-54 rating six times as high.

From the May sweeps, it looks like Fallon is taking more viewers away from Kimmel here than from Letterman. Some of that has to do with the weakness of Channel 7 as an ABC affiliate.

Meyers’ program at 12:35 a.m. isn’t quite the success of Fallon’s here, but he has improved every category from a year ago when Fallon had the program and wins over CBS’ “The Late, Late Show with Craig Ferguson” in the age 18-34 category by a 2-1 margin. Meyers also wins 18-49 by a slim margin, but Ferguson surprisingly wins among 25-54 viewers. From the looks of the May sweeps, Ferguson will be missed here when he ends his run at the end of the year.

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Tue, 1 Jul 2014 11:46:57 -0400 Alan Pergament
<![CDATA[ Of course, we’ve fallen for the World Cup. Why wouldn’t we? ]]>
If America has, at long last, caught World Cup Fever, the most obvious reason for the sudden U.S. popularity of televised soccer is the most obvious one: The sport is perfect for spectators, whether in stadiums or on the tube. On those big ultra-green fields in Brazil, you can always see the ball. And you can watch the matches at times of day where Americans can have that wonderful feeling of playing a little hooky.

So what if scoring is minimal at best? The action is constant and terrific and the cameras always catch the miscreants doing things as dastardly as biting the other guy’s shoulder or just simply sticking a foot out and tripping him. It doesn’t take a genius to know, after just one half of one game, what a dirty player looks like.

The rest of the world went full goose bozo for soccer-watching eons ago. Passions run so high that cops prepare for fan reactions to match results.

It’s been only in America that we stuck religiously to our traditional diet of TV sports – football, basketball, baseball (waning) and, doomed always to trail the leaders, hockey.

Yes, in Canadian border cities or NHL cities like Buffalo, hockey culture is so advanced that TV hockey ratings can exceed NHL ratings elsewhere considerably. But the simple fact is, you have to be taught how to watch hockey. You can’t always SEE the puck. You always know where it is if you’ve watched it enough, but hockey requires knowledgeable spectators. That, no doubt, is why the league all those years ago started winking at players throwing their gloves off and pummeling each other to see if any new opponents’ teeth could be racked up on their private scoreboards.

You couldn’t always see those teeth knocked loose either but fists and elbows flailing showed up nicely on the tube, even when they were flying around all that well-padded hockey regalia.

And now that so many Americans are learning to play soccer at such a young age, audiences are a natural to start caring – quite quickly – in a way that a majority is never likely to care about hockey.

In my case, sharing a sudden late life interest in TV soccer with my fellow Americans is a delayed re-connection with early life. The first star professional athlete I ever met was a professional soccer player.

I was only 9 or 10 years old and his name was Walt Bahr. He was the captain of the American World Cup team in 1950, and a member of the soccer team that, incredibly and legendarily, defeated England, helping to knock the Brits out of the tournament.

The people who owned the Adirondack Summer camp my parents sent my brother and me to hired Bahr to be – nominally – a camp counselor but most of all an authentic presence of athletic excellence for all of us ungainly little clods.

Bahr’s famous trick was to play volleyball against a team of smug young boys. Just Walt on one side adhering strictly to the rules of soccer, i.e. never using his hands. On the other side, you could put as many hotshot young doofuses as you could fit and Walt would still cream you.

He’d “catch” the ball on the side of a foot, knock it to his chest, bump it over his head and then use his head to smash the ball on your side of the volleyball court where no one could get to it.

That, before I’d hit puberty, was what I had been taught about soccer players – that they could be, pound for pound, as great as any athlete in any sport anywhere in the world. And prove it to you – in your face.

When a hopeless non-jock like me started to play soccer at the insistence of Nichols School (every healthy boy had to pick a sport every season, just so you’d run around part of the day and get physically tired), I got good enough dribbling a soccer ball down the field that I could juke an opponent and pass right by him.

That, and a brief anomalous period of sinking shots from a basketball foul line, are almost my entire lifetime achievement in any athletic endeavor – all accomplished before I started smoking at 13 behind everyone’s back. Add to that minuscule accomplishment the one time I hit a softball out into the outfield for a stand-up double (I was 11, I think) and one backhand tennis smash in my 30s whose power surprised me even more than the poor guy who couldn’t return it. There you have it: everything I’ve ever done right in a sports competition.

Against that, put the brief period when Nichols insisted that all of its young males (exclusively at the school at the time) should, however oafish we were, at least be familiar with hockey and try it. I couldn’t skate and I hated the elaborate uniforms. I spent an inordinate amount of time finding a stick I wouldn’t trip over. The first time one of my hockey-proficient fellow students took it upon himself to bodycheck me out of the way, I was permanently awakened to the realization that every minute I spent on the ice, I stood an excellent chance of being smacked around as much as the puck. Any desire to play after that vanished.

I liked playing soccer. It wasn’t hard to get the basics down. Same with basketball. Every now and then – maybe one time out of 80 tries – even the clumsiest shrimp on a basketball court could stop dribbling, get lucky, throw a ball over an opponent’s head and watch, awestruck, as it swished through the net.

My favorite moment of World Cup Fever, though, hasn’t been on the field but on the Internet – thanks to the latest perfectly timed super-asininity by Ann Coulter trying to prove that those of us newly enthusiastic about soccer spectatorship are part of America’s moral decay. No doubt, we’re ready to surrender our precious bodily fluids to the conspiracy of peacenik internationalists who have turned soccer into a symbolic rejection of the superiority of American sport that true blue American great grandfathers took for granted.

It was Nick Hornby on Facebook who first “shared” Coulter’s latest offense against functioning brain tissue and humanity. My first reaction upon reading it was, as the kids say, OMG, this is finally Coulter’s masterpiece, a column that begins at an unfathomable pitch of idiocy and just never lets up, only increasing in geometrically progressing drool as it goes on.

At a perfectly timed moment, to an awaiting world, she had found a way to be Ann Coulter to the whole world.

Let me make it clear. I am not one of whose think Coulter a deliberate secret satirist creating pieces of hilarious performance art to make the ghost of Jonathan Swift laugh his bloomers off in the great beyond. I think she’s dead serious – always – even if she’s well aware how much of a deranged lunatic she sounds in many quarters.

She knows she sounds like Gen. Jack D. Ripper’s sister in “Dr. Strangelove” and is fine with it, just fine.

What could be more decadent for a right-thinking non-immigrant American than a soccer match, something to further sap American ideals of individual achievement via the world’s favorite sport?

To Coulter, I would say, Walt Bahr is still with us at the age of 87.

How I wish the former Penn State soccer coach were still in his incredible prime. I’d love to see Coulter round up hotshot individualist jocks in her neighborhood for a little demonstration volleyball match against the decadent, team-loving soccer legend.

Playing, as always, without ever using his hands.


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Mon, 30 Jun 2014 14:03:55 -0400 Jeff Simon
<![CDATA[ The Rapture is taking away TV’s stars and giving us great HBO shows ]]>
I’d bet that the former, rather than the latter, was the key factor in Sawyer’s recent announcement that later in the summer she’d be abdicating her chair as the nightly anchor of ABC news.

Sawyer and Nichols have been married for 26 years. My ear has never been close to the ground for evidence of seismic activity in famous marriages so I frankly have no idea if there has ever been a rumble of dissidence in the Nichols/Sawyer menage.

From my perspective out here outside the 12-mile limit, they’ve been as solid as couples can be.

And, under such circumstances, a woman in her late 60s might very well want to adjust the ratio of business and family with an 82-year-old husband.

Especially now that anchor of the nightly news is no longer a shadow of the job it used to be.

Have you seen ABC News at dinner time recently? There are nights when if it were any more stuffed with soft features and miscellaneous panderings, the whole show would smell like dryer sheets. I have no doubt that Sawyer had more than a little to do with that but even if she did, it seems to me that abandoning the ABC news anchor chair in 2014 isn’t much of a sacrifice.

And when all this was announced, everyone made it crystal clear that she’d still be around to do interviews, etc. (In other words, potential on-air duty during the next cataclysmic breaking news story to add whatever she can add to the ABC news mix, which is considerable. You can bet the farm we’ll see her again with reasonable frequency.)

Sawyer brings something unique to TV and always has: She signifies – so some academics used to like to say – a pure American patrician. She may be the daughter of a judge in Kentucky and a former beauty pageant contestant but what she has brought to TV news – especially in her senior years – is the look and sound of America’s ownership class.

Diane Sawyer is pure Wellesley, class of 1967.

And that is why a good part of America, no matter how they feel about their own secret prejudices, has always trusted her. She’s the woman who, as a young girl, people without money could have wanted to discover as their daughter’s freshman college roommate.

She signifies far too much privilege to be overtly loved in a democracy but not so much that people don’t trust her completely when she’s sitting in a news anchor chair, where her look and her cadences seem to fit right in. If ever a woman seemed perfect for telling you about what America’s owners were doing with all our lives today, it was Diane Sawyer.

That, though, doesn’t change a simple fact that I think now must be faced about American television in the year 2014:

The Rapture has arrived.

Some mysterious alien force (demographics?) has taken over and given notice that half of the ruling population of talking heads is about to be yanked away into oblivion.

Jay Leno is gone, abandoned to the road for one-nighters. David Letterman will be gone after next year is over. Craig Ferguson will be gone after this year is out.

Barbara Walters is gone from “The View.” So will be everyone else on that show except Whoopi Goldberg. Katie Couric was surgically removed from CBS’ Nightly News anchor chair (if only she’d been taller and sounded wealthier) and refused to do sufficient downward dumbing to make her afternoon show a contender for Oprah-hood. (Remember that when Oprah started she was doing her version of Phil Donahue, a man who had no compunctions about cross-dressing for ratings.)

The Rapture has come to TV stardom.

Which leads me to make a very modest proposal.

Octogenarian Barbara Walters is, as she so often has in her life, showing the way. Even after all that public hoo-ha about her leaving “The View”, she’s still happy to appear on the air interviewing the grieving fathers of mass murderers in Isla Vista, Ca.

Which she did last week.

Smart. Very smart. Not just smart of her but smart of ABC News. When you’ve got a Babs on tap, you keep using her whenever it makes sense to do so and whenever she’s mentally and physically up to it.

Here’s my proposal: Someone needs to do with comedy what ABC, for one, obviously knows how to do with news stars i.e. keep them in front of the camera periodically and let them give us a new bunch of outcroppings from their heads.

Frankly, I seldom watch Letterman now after the monologue. Ferguson’s opening monologue was – at least once – one of the great moments in late night TV history. That’s when he announced his own status as a recovering alcoholic in AA and therefore his reluctance to make any more jokes about Britney Spears.

When they’re all gone we need a regular place for all of them – Leno too – to be able to drop in regularly and open-up the current contents of their heads for our edification in a place commensurate with their stature. The Johnny Carson solution – total disappearance except for some gags thrown over the transom to David Letterman – was a very bad one, it seems, both for his audience and for him too, for that matter.

We need a place for these guys to drop in every now and then and be treated as they used to be – often enough so that the regular traffic in them would be a draw in and of itself.

Someone needs to invent that place, post haste.

Meanwhile, if it seems as if I’ve got The Rapture on the brain, it’s because of this evening’s beginning of HBO’s 10-episode version of Tom Perotta’s novel “The Leftovers” (10 p.m., HBO) about an America after some future Oct. 14 when there was “the instantaneous disappearance of 2 per cent of the world’s population – 140 million souls.” The Rapture, you see, arrived and crying babies instantly disappeared from car seats and suburban dads disappeared from behind the carts they were pushing in drug store parking lots.

Three years later, in this pilot written by Perotta and Damon Lindelof (of “Lost,” and the movie script for “World War Z” fame), teen kids are significantly reading Camus’ “The Stranger,” alienation is everywhere (teens talk about getting “all intense and melancholy sometimes”) and weird mute people in white keep showing up to ruin everyone’s attempt to pretend normality. They refuse to talk but most of them have taken up smoking because, as The Rapture indicated, the world is ending anyway.

Tonight’s pilot is directed by Peter Berg of “Friday Night Lights” so you’ll see the town sheriff (Justin Theroux) tell his teen daughter that there’s to be “no drinking” at a party she’s going to across town. Sure enough, when she gets there, it’s full of teens toking, snorting, bonging, and crack-piping but, hey, there’s no drinking.

In the world after The Rapture snatches away 2 percent of humankind, everyone is, understandably, flirting with a state of prolonged depressed grief. All of which made the one joke in the pilot one of the funniest things I’ve seen on television all year.

When, toward the end of the evening’s episode, we suddenly see a TV news montage of all of those who were snatched from earthly residence to where the enraptured go, it is fall off your chair funny.

But then you won’t forget the shock of the opening 10 minutes of the show either.

This is wonderfully bizarre TV for HBO, a wee bit more grief-stricken than many might be up for on Sunday nights.

But, come Monday, they can always watch ABC News at 6:30 p.m. for cheering up.

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Sat, 28 Jun 2014 17:41:39 -0400 Jeff Simon
<![CDATA[ Never the best of friends, Alan Pergament and Ed Kilgore bury the hatchet – sort of ]]>
He wasn’t mine, either.

So it might come as a surprise that we recently had a two-hour conversation over a few drinks catching up about his life a year after leaving Channel 2. We talked about his new career working for Buffalo Sabres owner Terry Pegula, his old career at WGRZ-TV, fracking and our children.

It started with Kilgore thanking me for giving him a month’s vacation a year ago when I wrote a column explaining that he couldn’t continue to do Channel 2 sportscasts after accepting a job with the Sabres owner.

For journalism’s sake, I should add that Kilgore’s “thank you” dripped with sarcasm.

Kilgore understood my stand but he still disagrees with it.

“I just felt like after 40 years that most viewers would understand that my first commentary wasn’t going to be what a great owner the Sabres have,” said Kilgore. “I was just finishing out the month and I felt I just sort of deserved some benefit of the doubt there.

“But the station agreed with you and said we’ll just have you do a final goodbye. … And then we’ll still pay you into the end of May. I got a month’s paid vacation. I’m saying it sarcastically. But if you hadn’t written anything, I would have finished May. I’m thanking you tongue-in-cheek.”

I’ll take a thank you any way I can get it.

Kilgore really is thankful he was hired by Pegula. He calls the year since he left Channel 2 “the best year of my life.”

“I feel like I’ve gone back to college again,” explained Kilgore. “I’ve read so many textbooks and loads of information about the oil and gas business and its problems and how it works.”

He also is pretty much his own boss. He works out of his Orchard Park home, with trips to Pegula’s East Management Services north of Pittsburgh two or three times a month. His official title is vice president of public relations for East Management, which he said is “sort of what became of East Resources after Terry sold it to Royal Dutch Shell.”

“Terry has given me some guidelines on what he wants me to do and I’m working on them,” explained Kilgore. “They are to put a more pro-slant on the controversial oil and gas business. Fracking is a dirty word, especially in New York State, where there is a moratorium going on. Part of my business is to win minds and influence people.”

In other words, after years covering sports, Kilgore has become a cheerleader. The old sarcastic me might have said that isn’t much of a stretch. But I’ve reformed.

He said he hasn’t studied this much since graduating from the University of Missouri in 1969. The 67-year-old Kilgore put a hard hat on, went out in the field and learned how things are done.

“I learned the business from the ground floor up,” said Kilgore. “And that exposure for three months or so convinced me that these people are very environmentally conscious. They are hunters and fishermen. They are very serious about safety and not polluting the environment. That made my job that much easier to do.”

“My job ultimately is to find ways to illuminate the public between the discrepancy between Pennsylvania and New York,” said Kilgore. “Here is the irony: New York City is now running its vehicles on natural gas. They are importing it from Pennsylvania.”

You can hear in his voice Kilgore’s passion for his new job, especially when compared to his final few years at Channel 2. He sort of concedes that point.

“I was very ready to leave television,” he said. “Forty years in one place was wonderful. I enjoyed most of it. But there comes a time. Adam (Benigni, who replaced him as sports director) was ready to go. I was ready to go, too. But I just needed something better to go to.”

So life begins at 66? “Actually it starts at 63,” said Kilgore. “That’s when I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. That’s what really got me fired up.”

In a way, Kilgore’s survival at one TV station that experienced so much turmoil over decades might have been harder than climbing the mountain.

“I don’t think people realize how difficult it is to survive in one place through seven or eight different owners, about 20 general managers, about 60 different anchor combinations,” he said.

He said his relationship with Pegula started when the Sabres owner sat next to him at a practice shortly after Kilgore emceed a 2011 memorial for the late Sabres great Rick Martin. Pegula knew Kilgore from his days as the host of Channel 2’s intermissions during Sabres telecasts. They had a long conversation. Then they had brief conversations over a few years.

“Our conversations were never about hockey,” said Kilgore. “They were about former ownership. And we reminisced. … One day I happened to mention to him that I was winding down in broadcasting and that’s what led to him finally asking if I wanted to make a change. One day out of the blue he called me at home. Then it was very quickly after that.”

He also got another important call recently, telling Kilgore he was in the 2014 class of the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame.

“It is like anything else, you go long enough without getting fired you’re probably eventually going to get in there,” he cracked.

He paused when asked about his sports TV highlights. There were the years the Bills went to the Super Bowl and he did a show with quarterback Jim Kelly. The years the Sabres were good. The years Channel 2 made its comeback.

“I never considered myself a journalist first,” said Kilgore. “I’m a guy who loves sports. I became a sportscaster because it was a way to relate my enthusiasm to an audience. Because of that, people like you and others have been critical of that.

“A lot of people think I’m too easy on teams, owners or players. And that’s fine. I really could care less about that. Here is the thing: I think you have to be yourself. That’s what I did from the day I came out of Mizzou to the day I retired. That’s just the way I looked at it.”

But he did point to one journalism highlight.

“I was the first one reporting that Alex Mogilny’s defection would be leading to Buffalo,” said Kilgore. “I can tell it now. Scotty Bowman was my source. He used to yell at me when we were on the road, which is kind of ironic. Some of the people I criticized have become my friends.”

I briefly thought that he was talking about how we were bonding and gave him a look.

“That won’t happen,” said Kilgore, laughing. “You put me near the bottom of the rankings of the Top 10 sportscasters. That is one thing I can never forget. I can never get past that. But I am also not one who has grudges. But I won’t forget.”

He said he doesn’t miss the criticism – or the job.

“I miss the people. I don’t miss the business at all because of the way it has changed … I don’t miss being on the air one bit.”

He texts to Benigni every other week about personal things. He said he never talks to Benigni about the speculation surrounding Terry and Kim Pegula’s plans to bid for the Buffalo Bills.

“I have not been the source of one single thing that Adam has said,” said Kilgore. “I told him right away that whenever it came to being a source for something, I’m not going to be that guy. There is no one in the world I am more loyal to, other than my wife, than the big guy and Kim.”

Recently, Kilgore said Benigni asked if he missed the excitement surrounding the stories concerning the Bills’ future.

“I told him ‘you have no idea – how much I don’t miss it,’ ” Kilgore said.

Kilgore has bigger plans to worry about. Family plans. He and his wife, Deborah, are planning the marriage of their daughter Shannon in Scotland next summer. After our two-hour bonding session, I wouldn’t be too surprised if an invitation arrived in the mail.

OK, that’s tongue-in-cheek. We may like each other now. But I have a better chance of climbing Mount Kilimanjaro.

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Sat, 28 Jun 2014 17:37:34 -0400 Alan Pergament
<![CDATA[ Devotion to a dream ]]>
The group released two singles from the album over the last few weeks, via iTunes. I bought them both. They got me pumped for the coming album, which is exactly what they were intended to do.

Then a little over a week prior to the release date, Phish announced that it would be streaming the entire album – dubbed “Fuego” (see my review in this issue of Gusto) – via National Public Radio’s “First Listen” series. I got home from work eager to tell my son about the advance stream. Figured we could listen together to get pumped for our coming trip to Saratoga Springs, where I grew up, to catch Phish on the first night of their three-night residency at SPAC.

My son surprised me, however, with his response.

“Dad, let’s not listen to it now. Let’s wait for the release day, and grab it on vinyl, and then really sit down and listen to it.”


I was simultaneously shocked, proud and transported straight back to a time when I was his age (almost 14) and would treat official release dates of new albums from my favorite artists as holidays. Going to the store on the day of release to buy the album was a sacred ritual to me. It was the act of going to the shop – and prior to that, of having saved up the money, made the plans to get there at 10 a.m. when the local record store opened, and making sure the schedule was cleared for the rest of that day, in order to spend time listening to it – that imbued the record itself with additional importance.

That’s gone now, for the most part. And that’s sad.

Whole forests’ worth of pages have been written on how streaming sites have destroyed the ability of recording artists to make a reasonable royalty rate for their recording efforts. I’ve written a fair amount of such pages myself, and, of course, this is a legitimate and ongoing problem that demands to be addressed.

But streaming is killing music in another, perhaps more fundamental way. It’s taking the magic out of the album as an art form. And it has transformed official release days into just one more in a potentially endless stream of regular old Tuesdays. It’s like they canceled Christmas, in my little world. And I don’t think I’m alone in feeling this way.

So why bother going to the store and spending $30 for the double vinyl, or less for a hard copy of the CD? Who needs to buy the cow when you can gorge yourself on free milk whenever you feel like it, for the price of only a few thumb clicks?

Well, I do, for one. I went to Record Theatre on Main Street Tuesday morning, and I was pumped walking in. There sat the gatefold double vinyl in a display rack right in front. I grabbed it, scoped out the artwork, felt the heft of the heavy vinyl. That artwork, interestingly enough, was partially designed by Buffalo-born Julia Mordaunt, who is Phish’s official art director.

The old record industry was certainly flawed – the greed of many within it certainly aided in its collapse. But there was something effectively democratic about the way it worked. People needed to go to the store, pick up the actual physical thing and pay for it. That meant, in many cases, something had to be very good, or at least very interesting, in order to sell.

I’d welcome a return to that system. There is simply too much music too readily available to too many people. On such an artificially leveled playing field, nothing stands out.

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Thu, 26 Jun 2014 07:59:31 -0400 Jeff Miers
<![CDATA[ ‘Tyrant’ makes history but we don’t know why yet ]]>
It’s the first American television show to be concerned with an Arab-American returning to his native Middle Eastern country – the entirely fictional Abuddin – after spending the previous 19 years as a pediatrician in Pasadena, Calif., with a blond wife and two sullen and spoiled American teen kids.

Granted, the star of the series (Adam Rayner) is himself not Arab-American, but the actor playing his monster brother in Abuddin is an Israeli Arab. All I can frankly claim, at this point, is that the pilot you’ll see tonight is both fascinating and promising.

And one that could go very wrong very quickly.

Imagine an Arab-American Michael Corleone – smart, college-educated, admirable in all possible upper middle class ways – suddenly yanked back into the brutalizing, blood-soaked family business by family circumstance even though his corrupt father wanted nothing of the sort. That’s what happens this evening – a brilliant premise, I thought, for a TV series about a brutal Middle Eastern regime.

What we’re watching here is a humane and good American – a children’s doctor whose daily California worries involved when, if ever, one should take California’s Route 405 – and his family’s brutal dictatorship many thousands of miles away in the Middle East.

But in the great World Cup of contemporary international television, the yellow card went up on “Tyrant” long ago. The show’s pilot was originally supposed to have been directed by the great Ang Lee, no less, Oscar winner recently for “Life of Pi.” He bowed out of his major first TV gig early.

The show’s creator Gideon Raff was the creator of the Israeli TV series that was eventually turned into Showtime’s “Homeland,” one of the most praised TV shows of the past few decades. To see on American premium cable TV a series that asked us to sympathize, at least for a second, with an American military torture victim in Iran who was a secret terrorist spreading a prayer mat in his garage and facing Mecca as he prayed to Allah was an utterly amazing moment in contemporary television.

Raff has left the show, too, although he’s said to be on good terms with producer Howard Gordon, formerly of “Homeland” and “24.”

I’ve seen this evening’s pilot but I haven’t had time yet to watch the subsequent episodes FX was only able to offer online at the very end of last week. Frankly, then, I have no idea whether we’ll be watching the “Homeland”-ish internal agonies of an American forced into leading an old and brutal patriarchal dictatorship or one committed to Westernization and change.

It’s hard to think the latter will be the case given the title of the series.

There were plans once to film it in Morocco. It’s now being filmed in Israel, where, you’ll remember, the original series began on which “Homeland” was eventually based.

In the pilot, our Americanized pediatrician is both a clever and good man. The monster in the family is his older brother Jamal, who stayed back home while his father Westernized his economy – but not the society – as much as possible. As a boy, Jamal was berated by their tyrant father for dressing and acting “like a girl” while his younger brother silently and impenetrably looked on.

They are dramatic opposites now. Jamal has sex with a woman while her husband and baby son are forced to wait in the hallway just a few feet away with Jamal’s bodyguards. (A closed door is Jamal’s only concession to being human.) He races around in a sports car from which Aerosmith blares at top volume. He beats terrorists who threaten violence at his son’s wedding, the event that brought his pediatrician brother Bassam “Barry” Al-Fayeed home for the first time in 19 years.

Barry is the one who quietly, and quickly, solves the whole problem of terrorists ruining the wedding by telling his brother to invite a key leader from the other side and his family to the wedding. While he and his family are there at the celebration, he would never let anything happen to them.

Barry (note the familiarity of that first name) knows full well what he could be forced into. And he wants to get back to his Pasadena medical practice in a hurry. His family – especially his spoiled son getting his first taste of what real patriarchal privilege offers the relatives of royalty in this world – is beginning to enjoy the novelty of being related to a Middle Eastern dictator.

A stark and agonizing “Homeland” battle of values is possible in Bassam’s soul. But so, too, is a relentless Islamophobic fantasy parade of ugly stereotypes that could cause all sorts of people to label the show politically, socially and morally unclean.

As it is now, the soul of the show belongs to the two actors who represent a very strained brotherhood across a 7,000-mile distance – Rayner as Barry and Israeli Arab actor Ashraf Barhom as his monster brother Jamal whom Barry suspects of being insane. Barhom is a very good actor whose self-evident evasion of Western dentistry is only one indication of how American prime-time TV audiences are supposed to feel about him.

The two actors are superb in the pilot, as well as brilliantly directed by David Yates, who directed the final four films in the “Harry Potter” film series. The architectural grandeur and the life of Middle Eastern royal privilege are portrayed with exceptional, effortless conviction in the pilot.

What’s in the offing, then, after this evening is a TV show that could go either way, after opening up at a dramatic crossroads. We could either be watching one of the braver and more complex TV fantasies since “Homeland” showed us things we never expected to see. Or it could immerse us in a post-“24” fantasy of righteous torture and dimwitted teens as two of the most identifiable scourges of civilization.

I honestly didn’t have time last week to see which road “Tyrant” will take next week. But I do care.

The crossroads presented by this evening’s opening is dramatic enough in the life of any one TV series.

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Mon, 23 Jun 2014 14:13:11 -0400 Jeff Simon
<![CDATA[ Bryan Shaw lands new weather gig in Louisville after leaving Channel 4 ]]>
And as is often the case, there is a Buffalo angle. Well, actually there are three Buffalo angles.

The news director, David Seals, at his new station, WHAS in Louisville, Ky., is from Buffalo.

Seals could have asked his sister, Dr. Barbara Seals Nevergold, about Shaw’s work because she still lives here and is often on television. She is the president of the Buffalo School Board.

And before Shaw was hired, the 28-year-old meteorologist apparently got the seal of approval from Channel 2, which like WHAS, is owned by Gannett.

In a telephone interview Sunday, Shaw said he is going to do weather on weekends and also do the forecasts at noon and 4 p.m. on Fridays on WHAS.

“I got the job offer the day after I left Channel 4,” said Shaw.

Was he planning on leaving even if Channel 4 renewed him?

“Not necessarily,” said Shaw. “That’s all I can say.”

Asked if he was told why he wasn’t being renewed, Shaw said he couldn’t discuss that.

Asked if he had to sign something to prevent him from talking about his Channel 4 departure, Shaw said: “I can’t discuss why I can’t discuss it.”

I haven’t laughed so hard in weeks.

Shaw was excellent with social media, was well-liked and worked hard so I suspect that he was let go because of his on-air presentation. He wasn’t the smoothest weathercaster in town. But his abrupt departure from Channel 4 didn’t sit well with some staffers, who didn’t think he deserved to be escorted out the door on his last day.

“That’s not uncommon though,” said Shaw of how he left.

He added he received plenty of messages, calls, texts and emails of support.

“It meant a lot that my co-workers really liked me and had my back,” said Shaw. “I loved everybody I worked with. It was definitely sad to say goodbye to everybody.”

Since he was talking to Louisville before Channel 4 let him go, it appears Shaw realized he might be in jeopardy here.

“I’ll just say I felt like I should look other places,” said Shaw. “It would have been irresponsible to not look at other places just to see what my value was.”

He is moving to a slightly bigger market than Buffalo in the Top 50.

“You always want to move up,” said Shaw. “Moving to a Top 50 is a big deal.”

He isn’t sure if Seals ever saw him on Channel 4 because Seals recently got the job in Louisville and wasn’t involved in Shaw’s hiring. Shaw said he was told that Seals’ sister was the president of the Buffalo School Board.

“I told him he should give his sister a call and ask her if she has seen me and what she thinks,” said Shaw.

Shaw said that Seals could have said no to his hiring.

“I’m sure he could have very well said, ‘I don’t like this guy, I don’t want him to be part of my team,’ ” said Shaw. “He called me and said the exact opposite. He had nothing but good things to say. He said, ‘I really like what you do.’ It was nice that he was from Buffalo because he did ask me some things about what separates me from other people and I was able to use specific examples of the area and towns and he knew what I was talking about.”

For instance, Shaw said he explained how he was able to focus on small towns in Western New York and how they might be impacted differently by the lake and weather patterns here.

He also understands that WHAS representatives called sister Gannett station Channel 2 to find out what the station thought of Shaw.

Shaw said he was open to anything when his Channel 4 contract was up.

“It worked out the way it worked out, and it worked out well,” said Shaw, who added he got a raise from WHAS. “That’s all I can say.”

He never got to say goodbye on the air, so I gave him the opportunity.

“I love Buffalo, I’ll be back to visit. I already have a visit set up for next May,” said Shaw. “My wife and I spent a lot of time here and really got to know the area. It’s an awful lot like home. I honestly know Buffalo now better than I know my hometown of Cleveland, Ohio, because when you move to a new city at my age you kind of make the effort to get to know about the city and the fun things to do, as opposed to just what you grew up with and your parents did with you. … I think my wife and I did everything here, and we had a blast doing it. Definitely, we’ll miss it.”

While Shaw never got to say goodbye, Channel 4 anchor Diana Fairbanks ended her last newscast last week with a nice sweet message to viewers about her time here. She also noted that she is leaving the business to return to Traverse City, Mich., with her family.

She doesn’t officially leave the station until Friday. I’ve tried to interview Fairbanks. I suspect that – like Shaw – she can’t discuss why she can’t discuss her departure right away.

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Mon, 23 Jun 2014 12:31:00 -0400 Alan Pergament
<![CDATA[ Williamsville East grad Justin Rhodes gets a taste of reality on ‘America’s Got Talent’ ]]>
Stern’s questioning of Rhodes’ claim that his father had never seen him perform as an adult was the first of many reality-show lessons the Williamsville East graduate has received, and viewers can take from his experience.

Rhodes, who was known as Justin Bartkowski in high school before taking a stage name, has also learned that with fame comes criticism.

And that beautiful, famous celebrities like Heidi Klum and Mel B might exaggerate on TV when it comes to calling one “very special” or “sexy.”

Stern provided the initial lesson about how reality TV works when Rhodes – a former pianist for “American Idol” contestant and fellow East graduate John Stevens – was moved into the next round the week of July 22-23.

“I’ve gotten a few comments about what Howard Stern said,” said Rhodes in a telephone interview. “I’m not sure about this but all the contestants have kind of speculated – the judges are guided on what to say to us. There are times that they so happen to touch on the most important part of our story and what is going to draw the biggest audience. And they just so happened to touch on that.

“So him saying, ‘It is odd to me your father hasn’t seen you, why is that?’ He was trying to lead me into saying, ‘Well he’s getting older, he can’t get around much and it’s getting harder and harder for him to get to my shows.’ ”

Stern wasn’t the only one not buying the story.

After Rhodes made the claim, Tom Sartori, a Western New York singer who appeared on “AGT” years ago, went on Facebook, said he used to be Rhodes’ manager and wrote a vicious post questioning just about everything that Rhodes said on TV and added some negative things about Rhodes’ character.

Rhodes became aware of the post, which Sartori later said he took down at his mother’s request.

“I’ll stand by this,” wrote Sartori in the post explaining why he took the first post down. “Don’t screw people over, lie, sneak, cheat and then go make a huge lie on national TV and expect not to get called out.”

Sartori’s posts gave Rhodes another lesson in reality.

“I have no comment on them,” said Rhodes. “When someone is in the limelight, that’s just what happens.”

Rhodes’ answers to questions indirectly answered many of Sartori’s claims. Rhodes stands by the substance of “the story” told on TV with an adjustment.

“What I said was my father has never seen me perform on a stage as me,” explained Rhodes. “I’ve been in backup bands and the piano player for different bands and he didn’t come to one of my shows. One time, somewhere in Florida, I sang one song for him, and I was kind of in the back of the stage. That’s the only time he has ever seen me perform.”

“The story” – an important part of reality TV – made for emotional television as Rhodes’ father, Gene, was moved to tears as his son went to the piano and sang “Wake Me Up” by Avicii. The cameras also caught Rhodes’ mother, Jill, his sister Shana and some friends cheering but the focus was on dad.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen my dad cry before so that was very, very hard for me to watch,” said Rhodes. “It shocked me. I almost forgot about it when I was watching the episode.”

Rhodes understands the importance of a performer’s “story” for reality TV. He said he was interviewed for three or four hours of interviews before and after he performed and his comments were cut to a few minutes.

“They had me write almost an essay on everything I’ve been through in my life, everything I’ve gone through to get where I am,” said Rhodes. “There are points they want to touch on. And they really don’t want you to finish the interview until they get everything they want.”

“I’m not one for sob stories to be honest with you,” added Rhodes. “I really couldn’t care less about ‘the story.’ I’m judging it by talent.

“Being in the audition room and the holding room where the interviews are happening, I heard some of the stories and where the producers were leading them. Some people start getting emotional and crying. They really dig into people. It’s really unfortunate because it is for TV but these also are people. I know they have to do it. It is reality TV. It is what it is. But in my opinion … it is not nearly the most important part.”

He said he wasn’t led anywhere he didn’t want to go.

“What made me more comfortable was my parents were sitting right behind me so they could hear all that was happening,” said Rhodes. “They’ve been there with me so nothing was a surprise when it came out.”

Santori’s initial post suggested Rhodes made up his drug use.

“I’ve used drugs; that’s the short answer,” said Rhodes.

Did it become a big problem? “It became a problem, yes,” said Rhodes.

He had no problem connecting with Klum or Mel B. The first comment from Klum was edited out. “When I walked out she said, ‘You should be a model,’ ” said Rhodes. “I said, ‘Obviously I don’t need this show. Just take me with you.’ ”

He didn’t take Mel B’s statement that he was “sexy” too seriously.

“I’d love to believe Mel B was losing her stuff over me, but I have a feeling it has a lot to do with just being on TV,” said Rhodes.

He isn’t saying reality TV isn’t real. “It is actually very real,” said Rhodes. “They glamorize. I’ve never seen them just take nothing and make something out of it. They take people’s stories and try and draw out the emotion, but from what I’ve seen they have not made up anything, they haven’t said, ‘This isn’t going to sell so we need you to say this.’ When I say they lead you they’re not necessarily saying, ‘We need you to say this,’ they are saying, ‘We touched on this, go with that a little bit. Get deeper into that.’ ”

The benefit of being on “AGT” just once has given Rhodes another lesson. His “AGT” appearance has increased the crowds at his Hard Rock shows in Tampa, Fla., where he is now being billed “as seen on ‘AGT.’ ”

“I actually said to a friend of mine after I did a solo show at the Hard Rock, for the first time it felt more like a concert, people were there to listen to me more than ‘there’s music over there we can step away from the blackjack tables,’ ” said Rhodes.

He realizes he wouldn’t be in this situation if it hadn’t been for his choral director, Maureen Reilly, and band director, Dr. Steve Shewan, at Williamsville East. He added that his mom is a professional singer and had input as well.

“I don’t think I would have pursued music or singing if it hadn’t been for Mrs. Reilly and Dr. Shewan,” said Rhodes.

In a way, Rhodes has already won. His name is known. But he wants bigger things.

“To a degree yes,” Rhodes said of already winning. “But I’ve been a big dreamer. What’s happening now is still very premature on the road where I want to go. … Even after one episode, I’ve already gotten calls from record companies and people in studios who want to work with me so in a sense you are right I have already won. But I would like to be on the show long enough to really make some sort of waves in the music industry to the point I have a little bit of pull. “

His dad, his teachers, his family and friends are certainly pulling for him even if Sartori is not.

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Sat, 21 Jun 2014 22:08:26 -0400 Alan Pergament
<![CDATA[ Ambitious Silo Sessions project faces tough questions ]]>
On June 14, after months of planning and dozens of hours spent huddled in a cold concrete grain elevator at Silo City with cameras and audio equipment, Cain and his crew of dedicated volunteers held a party at the riverside industrial complex to celebrate the launch of Silo Sessions, their ambitious new performance series and music blog.

The project, which features short sets by local and touring musicians filmed inside one of Silo City’s towering concrete echo chambers, has produced dozens of videos, which will be uploaded to the site throughout the year. Following a model similar to NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts, Silo Sessions has a real chance to broadcast Buffalo’s unique musical and artistic culture to a global audience.

But not everyone is rejoicing over the launch of Cain’s promising project, and not everyone in Buffalo’s cultural community supports it. Here’s why:

In the early morning hours of May 23, Cain was arrested after a fight with a female acquaintance and charged with harassment, criminal mischief and criminal obstruction of breathing. On June 10, Cain pleaded guilty in Buffalo City Court to the harassment violation charge.

For three weeks after the incident occurred, surprisingly few people spoke out about it publicly, most of them friends of the victim. Though the news of his arrest had appeared in this newspaper, Cain stayed publicly mum about the incident as buzz built around his project.

When I called Cain to talk about the controversy prior to last weekend’s celebration, he was still clinging to the idea that the incident and his resulting guilty plea could remain a private affair. But later that evening, after mulling over the costs of staying silent, he released a statement to The News.

“I am terribly ashamed and embarrassed by the situation that happened between us because of the hurt and upset that it has caused within the community I love and support,” he said in a lengthy statement.

In the statement, also posted to his Facebook page, Cain also promised to donate a portion of the proceeds from Saturday’s launch party to Erie County Crisis Services and noted that he is enrolled in a 12-week anger management program and a drug and alcohol abuse program as part of his plea. “I intend to use this experience to give back to the community I love in a new way,” he said.

After speaking at length with Cain and the victim, as well as others involved in the Silo Sessions project and outside of it, the only thing that’s clear is that there are several contrasting narratives about what happened in Allentown that early May morning. But in all the accounts – those that heap all the blame on Cain and those that transfer some of it to the victim – the ending is the same: At the end of the incident, the victim had a bloody lip and broken glasses. Cain was arrested for and pleaded guilty to harassment.

In a phone interview last week, the victim – whom The News is not identifying – said she was scared to leave her house or to attend events in Buffalo’s tight-knit art community. She said she is getting unexpected backlash from some members of the community, including one person who said that she was “big enough to hold her own.”

A tough but important question for the community, as well as for the victim, is whether it’s possible to support Cain’s project while at the same time decrying his actions and taking a stand against all violence toward women.

“Would I really like to see this succeed because ultimately he’s my friend in the long run? Yeah,” she said. “I know that that was a really great goal that he wanted to achieve, and I think it’s amazing. I think it’s a really cool idea. But as a victim, when I see people supporting the event, do I feel as if they’re supporting him as a person? Yes I do.”

Other important questions remain:

What should the public price of Cain’s actions be? Must Silo Sessions, Cain’s brainchild and most ambitious project yet, collapse under the weight of those actions?

There’s no denying that we live in a society in which violence against women gets swept under the rug, overlooked and officially erased far too easily and far too often. In this context, the willingness of Cain and others involved in the project to suppress the issue – regardless of exactly how the altercation played out – was disheartening. On the other hand, Cain’s eventual statement shows genuine contrition and a plan to give back to the community.

As word of Cain’s arrest and plea spreads through the local cultural community, it seems unlikely that Silo Sessions will succeed on the scale he imagined as long as he remains directly involved. In similar circumstances, other creative and community leaders have been able to step aside for the good of their projects.

Whether that is possible or necessary in this case remains an open question. Cain’s statement is a good first step. But if Silo Sessions is to become more than just another beautiful idea that died too soon, a move further into the background for Cain is worth serious consideration.

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Sat, 21 Jun 2014 21:53:49 -0400 Colin Dabkowski
<![CDATA[ Jeff Simon: Sunday’s ‘The Last Ship’ begins the Summer of Michael Bay ]]>
No one embodies so perfectly the symbolic corruptions that many critics and Hollywood movie people need the director of the “Transformers” movies and “Pearl Harbor” to embody. No single name in current Hollywood calls up infantile, empty and deafening spectacle as the ultimate in modern megaplex virtue the way Bay’s does. (In the past, I’ve even called him an anti-filmmaker but he’s changed – a little anyway. More later.)

Tonight, we begin an Early Summer of Michael Bay. The TV show he executive produced for TNT, “The Last Ship” begins at 9 p.m. His new gigantic angry toy fantasy about giant versions of Hasbro’s “Transformers ” (we’re up to four now) – whose subtitle is the appropriate “Age of Extinction” – will detonate and deafen audiences in theaters on Friday.

But that’s nothing, really, in the legend of Michael Bay. It’s the Bay stories that so many in Hollywood relish. The two most famous:

1) Samsung is introducing its new TV screen “The Curve” to a select audience. Bay is invited to give it the major celebrity endorsement that a corporate announcement event ought to have. And now, Ladies and Gentleman, Michael Bay, says the announcer.

The tall, lanky, money-gobbling super-director strides out purposefully. “I get to dream for a living,” he tells the audience encouragingly. Then stops. “How do you come up with your wonderful ideas?” the announcer asks, hoping for a response.

Something is obviously bothering Bay. “The type is off,” he tells the audience. It seems there are teleprompter problems.

“I try to take people on an emotional ride,” says Bay, trying to wing it. No luck. This, to understate, is not the way Michael Bay does things. So he says, “I can’t do it” and walks off stage after his three-sentence presentation. He calls it a day.

Ladies and Gentleman, Michael Bay. Let’s really hear it.

2) As an adoptee, he has the resources to research his biological parents. He finds his real biological mother and publicly announces that he thinks his biological father was the great filmmaker John Frankenheimer (“The Manchurian Candidate.”) “Fat chance,” says Frankenheimer, in so many words. Gene testing proves Frankenheimer right. It looks like cinematic legitimacy can’t be found that way either.

His films cost money by the ton and make money by the megaton.

Everyone who thinks they know EXACTLY what to expect should know that joining Mark Wahlberg in the cast of “Transformers 4” are no less than Kelsey Grammer, John Goodman, Stanley Tucci and Ken Watanabe, four actors who can always be charmed by a good paycheck but are awfully good nonetheless.

Let’s remember that Bay’s last film was a genuine attempt to break out of the mode of expensive spectacle by directing “Pain and Gain” from a lunatic script by Buffalo-raised screenwriter Christopher Markus and his writing partner Stephen McFeely.

All it proved to me was how desperately Markus and McFeely’s script needed an authentic young eccentric of the Joel Coen ilk to direct, not Michael Bay. But hey, he was trying, you know?

The time seems to have come, I say, to praise Michael Bay.

No, I’m not kidding.

The reason is “The Last Ship,” which is, absolutely, one of the better replacement series you’re likely to see all summer. If the usually modest TNT network leads you to expect a certain level of production, think again. Money was clearly spent here and, as the Hollywood cliche would have it, it’s all “up there on the screen.”

And that’s good when you’re telling a story about a viral pandemic that has wiped out 80 percent of the American population and left the speaker of the House to be president (the president and the vice president have both died from the virus.)

The reason that the 217 men and women of the USS Nathan James were spared from the ravaging viral plague is that they were in the Arctic Circle under radio silence. Unknown to the Captain (Eric Dane) and crew, they were there so that a chilly scientist played by Rhona Mitra could investigate the origins of the virus to come up with a vaccine.

Now we know. Any time Michael Bay wants to be a producer and executive producer from now on, we should get out of his way and let him do what he wants. If “The Last Ship” is evidence of what he can get done as an executive producer, more power to him.

And I mean that literally – more power to him.

His director for the pilot of “The Last Ship” was Jonathan Mostow, most famous for the submarine film “U-571” and “Terminator 3” but, to some of us, best known for a really sinister and dandy Kurt Russell/Kathleen Quinlan thriller called “Breakdown.”

What happens that makes “The Last Ship” a compelling bit of apocalyptic fantasy is that you’re watching a U.S. Navy destroyer become the last best hope for humankind.

It’s based on a best-seller by William Brinkley and for all its immersion in dialogue cliches, it’s exciting and very well made.

Yes, you know that Bay’s involved when you see a naval-gun’s-eye-view of a helicopter shot out of the sky into the sea (he does love his machines, that boy) but as the viral pandemic jumps from Phase Two to Phase Six (Russia, for instance, “no longer has a functioning government” despite their hostile military), this thing turns into a Phase Six Apocalyptic Thriller.

You’ll root for Eric Dane as the Captain. And hope to heaven Rhona Mitra warms up a little.

It’s all done in corny broad strokes but hey, you were expecting subtlety?

The old TNT on-air promos used to claim “We Know Drama.” And that they do.

“The Last Ship” has given a hostile film and critical world a Michael Bay we can actually get behind and stop giggling about.

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Fri, 20 Jun 2014 16:06:08 -0400 Jeff Simon
<![CDATA[ A tip of the hat to Ringo Starr, ‘the other Beatle’ ]]>
But strictly on a musical level, Starr has not weathered the years as well as his former bandmates – which might sound a bit odd, considering that only one of those former band mates is still alive. He routinely is regarded as one of the luckiest men in show business, a marginal talent who, to paraphrase an oft-repeated John Lennon quip, “wasn’t even the best drummer in the Beatles.” In fact, Starr’s abilities as a drummer are consistently called into question. The general gist of the criticism is this – Starr is a rudimentary drummer who happened to be in the right place at the right time, and who is famous because he spent the glory days of his career surrounded by three of the greater geniuses of the rock era. End of discussion.

I’ve been hearing versions of this argument for as long as I can remember. I became a Beatles fanatic at a tender age, and can recall older members of my extended family treating Starr as the butt of their jokes, the goofy member of the gang you tolerated, but didn’t necessarily respect. From the beginning, I struck a defensive pose when this subject would come up. The Beatles were sacrosanct to me, and I was deeply offended that anyone would criticize one of them.

Later – around the early teen years, when I fell beneath the sway of progressive rock and jazz, and was exposed to a level of technical virtuosity heretofore unknown to me – I began to toe the party line a bit. I mean, if you’re listening to Tony Williams, Neil Peart, John Bonham and Stewart Copeland on a daily basis, yeah, Starr’s drumming starts to sound pretty basic.

Today, however, I’m back to being defensive in regards to Starr’s reputation. I’ll admit to the belief that he hasn’t made a good studio album since 1973’s “Ringo,” a great collection that, not surprisingly, featured contributions from all three of his former Beatle buddies. And as fun as his All Starr Band shows most definitely are, Starr always is joined by co-drummers, and rarely attacks the skins with the commitment he once exhibited. His voice, too, remains what it always was – charming, but an acquired taste.

All of this aside, Starr’s record as a Beatle is more than enough to counter the “right place at the right time” arguments. I’ll say it – I believe Starr is one of the finest rock drummers in the form’s history. Yes, he’s rudimentary. But he also was incredibly inventive, a conjuror of monstrous grooves, and a drummer who perfected the art of playing for the song.

Here are 10 examples of Starr’s subtle genius within the framework of the Beatles. Even if the man has been coasting on his legacy for years, this work suggests that, perhaps, he has earned the right to do so.

1) “A Day in the Life”

The tom tom rolls, the sound of the drum set, the perfectly placed accents, the relaxed groove – all are masterful, and all have been copied over and over again throughout the decades.

2) “I Am the Walrus”

Starr was playing a hip-hop groove here, 20 years before hip-hop existed.

3) “The Abbey Road Medley”

The drumming throughout side 2 of the Beatles’ final recording offers a lesson in subtlety and restraint.

4) “I Dig A Pony”

Starr getting back to his roots as a primal rock ’n’ roll basher, but with maturity and a more evolved musicality.

5) “Magical Mystery Tour”

A four-on-the-floor scorcher.

6) “Rain”

One of the greatest snare drum sounds ever laid to tape. The sophistication of simplicity in full effect.

7) “Taxman”

Another killer groove, with some sweet fills.

8) “Tomorrow Never Knows”

A simply iconic drum figure provides half of this song’s enduring magic. Rumor has it that Paul McCartney wrote the drum part. Regardless, it’s awesome.

9) “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”

Starr is driving the train here, without calling attention to that fact.

10) “Glass Onion”

An odd but amazing Lennon composition demanded authoritative drumming. Starr delivered.

Just as he always did.

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Wed, 18 Jun 2014 23:57:22 -0400 Jeff Miers
<![CDATA[ A problem ‘Rizzoli and Isles’ never expected to have ]]>
Frost was the Boston homicide squad’s sweet-faced resident computer geek. He also had one mildly interesting character trait – he was quite squeamish, not the best thing for a homicide cop.

The show has always been one of the most popular on cable TV, which was always a reasonably good thing for Young. Paychecks for young TV actors aren’t easy to come by.

He had the least personality of any actor on the show. But then this is a show that usually requires little in the way of dramatic heavy lifting, so personality is what it’s all about.

It’s what makes watching TNT shows, in general, so easy. They’re modest and are never afraid to be formulaic. Generally, they’re television for people who watch television, if you know what I mean (and I think that you do).

The show’s stars are Angie Harmon and Sasha Alexander. They play the supposedly tough and ethnic homicide cop Jane Rizzoli and the wealthy, overdressed, overintellectual Dr. Maura Isles, the medical examiner and BFF of Rizzoli (they grew up together. God only knows how. Ask readers of Tess Gerritsen’s R and I novels).

Angie Harmon, of course, couldn’t be less ethnic if she tried, but she’s also more Angie Harmon than any other actress on television, which will always make audiences happy. Alexander is a beautiful and very witty actress. Their act together is good. But then it’s the backbone of the series so it jolly well should be.

Personality to the max surrounds them – Bruce McGill, one of the wiliest of current character actors and a man with a 1,000-page résumé; Lorraine Bracco as Rizzoli’s mother charged with bringing the braciole to the dramatic table. And Jordan Bridges plays Rizzoli’s semi-doofus brother, not quite the neighborhood chooch but not far from it, either.

And that’s where Young, as an actor, lucked out to be the actor with the least personality on “Rizzoli and Isles.” With all that spice in the sauce, Young’s plainness as an actor made him stand out.

And so Lee Thompson Young did on the show – right up to the moment when he didn’t come to work and they found him dead on his couch with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to his temple. A Sig Saur semiautomatic was reportedly registered to him.

He was, according to all reports of his death, bipolar. And despite the autopsy evidence that he was taking at least some of his meds, he was reputedly on the down side of the bipolar cycle.

And that’s likely all we’ll ever know about his suicide (any more, given his level of stardom, is probably none of our business).

This is not a problem most returning TV shows have in their new seasons, needless to say. A cast member dying is hardly unknown but a very well-liked one who’s a suicide at 29 is unusual.

Obviously, tonight’s return of “Rizzoli and Isles” at 9 p.m. has to begin to deal with it. And so they do.

Among other things, the pregnancy of Rizzoli becomes an immediate plot element that offsets the show’s major difficulty.

It’s next week’s show where you’ll see the show’s cast members forced to produce, for dramatic purposes, evidence of what is, no doubt, very real grief for them all.

It is, under the circumstances, rather powerful.

And, in its unavoidable way, very much unlike the show.

Casey Kasem in Buffalo: From Mike Igoe, formerly of Channel 2 comes this reminiscence of Casey Kasem, who died over the weekend following a gruesome family dispute between his children and his wife over how to deal with his terrible final illness.

“You’re probably aware that he worked for WBNY in Buffalo,” wrote Igoe.

“I’m writing because I reacted with him quite a few times at the Jerry Lewis Muscular Dystrophy telethon conference that was often held in Los Angeles. During that time, I was the main Buffalo host, he was the guy from L.A. I was always impressed that he actually WENT to the conference and ACTIVELY participated in all the seminars. He, of course, was a well-known and well-polished professional.

“He was always very accessible and quite funny. I think he told me he was fired from WBNY and it was the best thing that ever happened to him. It was after that that he really started to take off.

“He was also the voice of Shaggy in the ‘Scooby Doo’ cartoon.”

And when Igoe made a presentation following Kasem’s at one meeting of broadcasters, he couldn’t resist saying how honored he was to follow a man known for such comments as “Zoinks … the ghost is Ranger Jones!”

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Mon, 16 Jun 2014 16:54:34 -0400 Jeff Simon
<![CDATA[ Free advice for E.W. Scripps, the new owners of Channel 7 ]]>
That figure illustrates how deep the hole the news department is in as the E.W. Scripps Co. prepares to officially take over Channel 7 on Monday.

The rating means 1.8 percent of all Western New York households were tuned in to the once-proud station. It was a quarter of Channel 2’s rating and 30 percent of Channel 4’s rating.

That’s the bad news for Scripps.

The good news is there is a big opportunity for Scripps if it invests in manpower and adds promotion that persuades local viewers to give Channel 7 another chance. Western New York loves an underdog and wants to see Channel 7 become more competitive with Channel 2 and Channel 4.

From my emails and letters, it appears that many Western New Yorkers are tiring of Channel 2’s self-righteous, self-important and self-promotional act. The latest illustration comes from its promos. I’ve been a huge fan of many of Channel 2’s funny promotions, which have been nominated for national awards. Seeing Maryalice Demler on skates in the newsroom for a promo on the Sochi Olympics was priceless. She’s a terrific actress. (Someone whispered in my ear to say something nice about her.).

But the latest promo in which supposedly regular viewers spout Channel 2’s clichés about holding people accountable and being on the viewers’ side are unintentionally funny. They seem to be either the product of brainwashing or of the speakers being fed phony lines.

Channel 2 often does the best job covering the news so many viewers still will give it a break if they haven’t turned to Channel 4.

Channel 4 has its own problems. Its presentation is often dull, and though its staff has several veterans, the turnover in the younger staff doesn’t make it appear to be a fun place to work. And viewers want to believe their reporters and anchors are having fun.

It should be fun watching Channel 7 try to reinvent itself after years watching its hedge fund owner destroy its news department.

My assumption is that Scripps will open its checkbook in the same way that Gannett did when it decided years ago to make Channel 2 competitive.

Channel 2 General Manager Jim Toellner smartly practiced patience with the station’s news product. He had a five-year plan that worked to perfection. Scripps needs to borrow his script.

I’m told that the first thing that Scripps plans to do is market research, which is something Channel 7 hasn’t done in years.

The research probably will cost plenty. My advice is free.

The research will most likely help determine whether to keep Channel 7’s veteran anchor team of Keith Radford and Joanna Pasceri. I’d keep them for at least a year to see if things can improve with more resources in front of and behind the camera.

Radford and Pasceri are solid anchors and don’t appear to be part of the problem. The question is whether they will be part of the long-term solution.

The bigger problem is behind the scenes, where Channel 7 doesn’t have enough veterans with experience. I would suspect if the station had more people working behind the scenes, the recent embarrassment of running a clip with an expletive could have been prevented.

I’d hire more veteran producers. Perhaps I’d even take a run at some producers at rival stations who might feel underpaid, or try to persuade some local producers who left the business in frustration to return to TV.

One of the biggest issues facing Channel 7 is its 4 p.m. lead-in. The reason for the 1.8 rating on the day of the racist video is Channel 7’s 4 p.m. program doesn’t give the news any lead-in.

Channel 7 hasn’t had a decent lead-in since it lost Oprah Winfrey to Channel 4 in 1993. I don’t see how it can get a decent one now with the available syndicated shows.

So my radical proposal would be to kill the 5 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. newscasts and start the night with a 6 p.m. newscast.

I wouldn’t give up the revenue for the hour of local news. I would run local news from 6 to 7 p.m., ask ABC for approval to run “World News with Diane Sawyer” at 7 p.m. and run another 30 minutes of local news at 7:30 p.m.

ABC might allow it because “World News” does much worse here than it does nationally. It is in third place on Channel 7.

The move also makes sense because Channel 7’s syndicated programs don’t get much of a rating at 7 p.m. News from 7 to 8 p.m. would be a good alternative to the game shows and entertainment programs on its rivals, especially for viewers who might prefer news after dinner.

I’d also suggest that Scripps get into the 10 p.m. news game. Perhaps it could partner with WBBZ-TV, the independent station. It would be a win-win. Channel 7 gets to compete at 10 p.m. with its rivals. WBBZ gets the credibility of carrying local news.

Some other things are less risky and more obvious.

• I’d immediately bring back Nielsen. There is no evidence to suggest Channel 7’s ratings have suffered since it dropped the ratings service in a cost-cutting move. But it sure didn’t help.

• I’d hire investigative reporters. Investigations are an area that Channel 2 and Channel 4 heavily promote, and Channel 7 used to be a big player in the game.

• I’d hire a consumer reporter, another area that Channel 7 used to be a player.

• The station needs personalities. Specialists become personalities.

• I’d see if WGR’s Buffalo Bills reporter Joe Buscaglia is interested in making a move to television. If he is, I’d add him to the station’s sports team.

• I’d send traffic reporter Desiree Wiley to meteorology school and turn her into a weathercaster if she would agree to a long-term contract that would keep her here when the major markets come calling.

• I’d immediately kill the theme song from “Good Morning,” which practically demands viewers change the channel. I’d also consider changing the morning anchors. My emails certainly indicate that many viewers aren’t as patient as station management.

However, Jaclyn Asztalos seems to be a keeper. The noon ratings went up when she anchored shortly before she took maternity leave.

• If Scripps is intent on giving viewers fresh faces at 6 and 11 p.m., I’d consider moving Radford and Pasceri to mornings if they can be persuaded to set the tone for the day and give early morning viewers a new reason to watch Channel 7 at 5 a.m. Radford could be Channel 2’s morning version of John Beard.

• Finally, I’d air promos that would poke fun at Channel 2’s news style, which certainly would be easy to do. And I’d add some promos that say something to the effect of “hey, look us over. Give us another chance. We have a new owner who believes in us and believes in you. Try us again, you may like us again.”

As Channel 2 has proven, with a little patience and a lot of investment, a station can change its image and its place in Buffalo TV news.

It probably will take years, but Channel 7 at least now has a chance to compete starting on Monday.

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Fri, 13 Jun 2014 16:37:24 -0400 Alan Pergament
<![CDATA[ The 20th Anniversary of when a local hero turned into a national public enemy ]]>
No surprise there. The prosecution wasn’t the place to be as a talking head telling the tale of how O.J. Simpson managed to win acquittal for the most famous Hollywood double murder of the past 50 years.

In this case, it was Josh Mankiewicz (the grandson of Herman, who co-wrote “Citizen Kane”) telling the story on “Dateline: NBC” in last week’s knee-jerk ceremonial observance of the 20th anniversary of the weirdest and most gripping night of breaking TV news most of us have ever seen.

To be sure, 9/11 and the Kennedy Assassination were vastly more significant and the late-morning explosion of the Challenger 73 seconds into its flight had – because of the children in the TV audience – an extra dimension of trauma, tragedy and horror.

But the slow-motion Bronco chase down Los Angeles’ Route 5 was a TV news happening nobody could have envisioned: A beloved American athlete, Hertz pitchman, football analyst, minor actor and double-murder suspect was in the backseat of a white Bronco holding a gun to his own head while his old Buffalo teammate and buddy Al Cowlings was driving him home at a speed only a little faster than a float in the Rose Parade while a caravan of police cars followed.

O.J. remained in the car 45 minutes. Then was allowed inside the house to talk to his mother. And finally, quite a while after, was taken into custody and driven to the jail that would be his home until a jury acquitted him.

And America virtually split up the middle in reaction along racial lines.

Is it any wonder that prosecutors Clark and Darden didn’t feel like chatting it up with Josh Mankiewicz on “Dateline: NBC” on the occasion of the commemoration of the “trial of the century” they lost?

It was race that is said to have acquitted him – the jury makeup and the narrative they believed, i.e. another black man was being railroaded by racist L. A. cops. But I’ve always believed in retrospect that the Simpson trial was equally about fame.

Put a defendant in front of jurors who may have loved him in a movie, a TV show or commercial or who they have followed, in their living rooms, down a football stadium sideline into the end zone and you’re going to need a prosecution doing a lot better and smarter job than L.A.’s D.A.’s office did at the time.

It was the city that, arguably, lost most of all in the Simpson trial, especially after Judge Lance Ito decided it would be televised.

Phil Spector, among Hollywood defendants, was beloved by almost no one. Robert Blake was a hugely popular TV actor (“Baretta”), especially among members of the TV press who could always count on Blake’s hipster outsider act to be a colorful quote machine. He had his own patois full of comic street poetry. It was the ideal verbal style for a man who liked to wear an unlit cigarette behind his ear.

But until the moment he was accused of murdering Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman, O.J. Simpson was, I submit, as close to a perfect celebrity as most of us is ever likely to see.

His fame began with real accomplishment, unlike the children of his late good friend Robert Kardashian. He had a brilliant football career in college which led to greatness with the Buffalo Bills. (I still remember the headline-writing panache of our then graphics editor, Dave White, whose full page commemoration of Simpson setting the single-season record for yardage showed the snow-slogged historic run and the line “2003 – A Space Odyssey.”)

But it was O.J.’s jovial personality you couldn’t resist.

I’ve written a couple of times before of the time at the downtown Bijou restaurant when a friend and I accidentally sat a couple of tables away from Simpson and the rest of what was then the “Monday Night Football” announcing team. She and I watched as Simpson alone at that table was the focus of a continuing, unremitting line of autograph seekers, kibitzers, supplicants and gushing admirers.

“Do you remember that time I met you at that banquet in.?” Or “I watched that game against the Raiders with my brother Ralph who said you were…” Or “I used to hang out with your friend Casey and he’d tell me that you…” On and on and on, all during dinner, which meant he had to stop after almost every single bite of food and smile and laugh for some new person or couple at the table begging for a crumb of recognition from the biggest sports celebrity the city will ever have.

Aside from a cup of tea I watched in similar close-up as Muhammad Ali tried to drink it in a coffee shop in a New York hotel, it was the most amazing exhibition of celebrity grace I’ve ever seen. Simpson had an almost magical way of making even the most oafish and foolish fans trying to get close feel as if what they were doing was not only natural but expected and completely welcome, as if he wanted nothing more than their search for his legendary good cheer.

And, in a way, perhaps it really was that pleasing to him. It’s quite possible that O. J. Simpson enjoyed celebrity as much as anyone who ever lived. If he’d actually been a real actor, he might not have. But he was a pretend actor – a good-looking football hero people put into a movie for a goof or a casting stunt to get attention. He was just name candy on the cast credit rollout and he always knew it. So, in a way, he was, with every fan, always solidifying his “brand” in the most charming possible way.

None of which was in the slightest antithetical to a charge of almost-decapitating his ex-wife outside her house, along with killing the waiter from early in the evening who was, we’re told, returning her mother’s glasses.

It was, in fact, O.J.’s almost unearthly perfection and comfort in the role of celebrity that might have filled him with more conviction of entitlement than any one man could sanely handle – especially not a third-rate actor who had been on movie sets with stunt men who were ex-military and who knew all about knifely maraudings on dark nights.

So during the trial, you could still sometimes run into people in this city who, despite the mountain of evidence, had terminal trouble believing that their O.J. could be THAT O.J.

As many of us always knew, he was.

For a lot of people in this town, people’s own private walls of fame have never quite looked the same.

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Fri, 13 Jun 2014 16:37:27 -0400 Jeff Simon
<![CDATA[ Miers' top club shows for summer ]]>
These are big shows, certainly. But they don’t tell the whole story.

For those whose taste runs to a more eclectic area of the modern musical landscape, Timberlake, Mars and Gaga might not mean anything at all. And the strongest authentic country music bill of the summer – Willie Nelson, Alison Krauss and Kacey Musgraves – already happened.

For these folks, much of the real summer concert action will be taking place in the clubs, where a broad spectrum of acts ranging from indie-rock to hard rock to metal to alt-country, will fill the docket. Many of these shows will only cost the discriminating music-junkie a fraction of what a Timberlake ticket is going for – $177 for the best seats for Timberlake’s July 9 Buffalo show. By comparison, you can catch a legendary alternative rock band like Swans in the Tralf Music Hall for less than $20 a ticket, or an indie-rock double bill with Band of Horses and Midlake at the Town Ballroom for $32.

There’s also the benefit of gaining an intimate experience with the artist at a club, as opposed to the often intimidating prospect of catching a major pop star in the midst of some 15,000 to 20,000 screaming fans. The sound in these smaller, more controlled venues is always better than it is at an arena, too.

It’s telling that, as I was compiling my Top 10 list of must-see club shows for the summer, I realized that a list of 40 would have been more appropriate.

There are several club shows worth seeing every week between now and mid-September. We might rightly feel that we remain a secondary concert market if we compare ourselves to Toronto, but when it comes to rising stars and cult-level icons, man, we’re stacked.

Here’s my pick for the best of the bunch.

1) Ozric Tentacles

June 21, Tralf Music Hall

Long before the full emergence of rave culture and the EDM movement, England’s Ozric Tentacles crafted a danceable blend of space rock, jam-band and fusion stylings, held together by a beautifully gooey psychedelia. This is one of the coolest shows coming to Buffalo on any stage this summer.

2) Jamestown Revival

June 20, Sportsmen’s Tavern

Indie-rock meets Southern soul and Americana. Likely to sell out quickly, so don’t wait.

3) The Foxy Shazam

June 25, Town Ballroom

A wonderfully over-the-top marriage of soul, glam, indie and R&B. If you haven’t seen this band live, you should rectify that situation.

4) The Winery Dogs

July 26, Tralf Music Hall

Time to welcome Buffalo’s Billy Sheehan back to town with the finest rock band he’s worked with since Talas.

5) Time Giant

Aug. 1, Buffalo Iron Works

The stoner-rock must-see show of the summer.

6) Band of Horses, Midlake

July 22, Town Ballroom

My favorite double bill in clubland this season. Both bands are great live, but my money’s on Midlake, by a nose.

7) The New Mastersounds

Sept. 3, Tralf Music Hall

This British quartet is so funky you have to wonder if its members are indeed British, and not from, say, New Orleans or something. Grant Green crossed with a Phish funk jam, circa 1997. Not to be missed.

8) Rich Robinson

Aug. 27, Waiting Room

Black Crowes guitarist Robinson with a new band and a new album to support. Robinson employs the loudest stage volume of any guitarist I’ve ever encountered, so hearing protection might be in order.

9) Swans

July 5, Tralf Music Hall

Speaking of incredibly loud volumes, this legendary band returns with an epic two-disc set of new material in tow.

10) Weatherbox

July 22, Waiting Room

This band started out at least tangentially related to the Emo movement, but new album “Flies In All Directions” reveals a new maturity.

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Thu, 12 Jun 2014 08:47:22 -0400 Jeff Miers
<![CDATA[ Let the ‘talent’ be ‘talent’, and let the judges judge ]]>
That’s why I’m a tiny bit worried about it.

We are, in summertime, in a season of distinctly lesser TV, the shows that don’t command our attention the way things like “Mad Men” or “Breaking Bad” or “The Good Wife” do. The likable and usually modest TNT network, for instance, is back in business with “Major Crimes, “Rizzoli and Isles” and a new TV cop show by Steven Bochco called “Murder in the First” (which is not to be confused with his prematurely yanked lawyer show of the ’90’s called “Murder One” starring the creepily memorable Daniel Benzali).

Before the month is out TNT will give us a TV show from Michael Bay called “The Last Ship.” Five days later there will be a new Bay “Transformers” movie, the fourth installment that so few of us over the age of 40 have been asking for.

I must confess, though, it’s “America’s Got Talent” that’s making me happiest at the moment, in its schlocky way. Of all the “reality” shows – talent contest division – it’s my favorite, along with “Dancing with the Stars.”

I’ve never been a dedicated watcher of “American Idol” or “The Voice” for the simple reason that the major leagues of America’s music “industry” aren’t of commanding interest to me so why should the minors be? But I find “America’s Got Talent” – whose co-creator is Simon Cowell – is what makes me happiest when “Dancing with the Stars” is not around.

What I like about both is that they’re so successful at stretching what the middle-class TV network audience thinks is “normal” to watch on television. One of AGT’s judges, Howard Stern, was once one of the FCC’s least favorite “shock jocks” on radio, until he proved conclusively that his tongue is eminently tamable. Another judge, Howie Mandel, is the celebrity poster boy for germaphobia.

“AGT” is full of New Vaudeville and semi-freak show business – all the things network TV stopped showing us when Letterman stopped doing “Is This Anything?” with Paul Shaffer.

Some of it is so weird and even disturbed that it is a cause for true wonderment, if not troubled concern. No contender for music biz adoption, for instance, can match a mediocre magician of two decades whose trick required Stern to wear a white rubber glove and pluck a playing card from between the contestant’s butt cheeks.

That, I submit, is as close to “The Aristocrats” level of show business as prime-time TV is ever going to get. At the same time, the stories behind the most ordinary contestants (singers, for instance) can be genuinely heart-rending – a boy singer, for instance, shunted with his sister from foster home to foster home as a child until being adopted for good at 8 by the adoring woman he now lovingly calls his mother.

What is real and what is not in such tales is unknowable. It goes without saying that these shows are not only more scripted than we think but far more tightly put together too. When AGT’s delightful judges – Stern, Mandel, Mel B. and Heidi Klum – know that a contestant is on the way with a sentimental film “package” or with a heart-tugging story that is not to be messed with, you can see that, to some extent, the fix is in. The judges have been clearly hipped before hand to the contestants that are going to make for “great TV.”

Not that they’ve been told what to say – only that showbiz troupers that they are, they trust the producers and behind-the-scenes triagists enough to know where the “good TV” is likely to be. And they’re never wrong.

That’s why I have a minor trepidation about the show: both emcee Nick Cannon and judges Stern and Mandel are being pulled into the act a bit too much for my taste.

I don’t blame the show or the “judges” and the “emcee.” They’re major strengths – huge draws for viewers and oh-so-cleverly assembled (“AGT,” the top four judges on TV in my opinion). And keeping them happy can’t always be easy for the producers. Airtime shenanigans for them no doubt help.

It’s the lack of true spontaneity in them I find off-putting. I have no doubt that there are millions at home pleased by all of them. Personally, I think their artificiality obtrudes a bit on the chief reasons I watch – the narratives from the “other America” and the extreme showbiz others wouldn’t touch with a shrimp fork.

It’s in keeping, though, with what was discovered on this past season of “Dancing with the Stars.” You would think that no narrative could possibly be more winning at contest’s end than that of Amy Purdy, paralympic snowboarder who was dancing on two prosthetic legs.

It turned out that the show had, hiding in plain sight, an exploitable narrative of its own that could trump everything else – the plight of tempestuous and charismatic Ukrainian professional dancer Maksim Chmerkovskiy who, despite his large season-to-season viewer popularity (especially among women), had never won the show’s “mirror ball trophy” (among the least-covetable items, in and of itself, in all of America).

Put him in a possibly romantic couple with Meryl Davis, a gold medal-winning Olympic ice dancer, and the show’s own homegrown “star” trumped everyone else competing. That was especially true because he and Davis were, by far, the best dancers on the show.

It goes without saying that there are no actual “stars” on “DWTS,” only people in various different levels of need for a career boost. What I like so much about the show is its insistence every season on forcing American couch potatoes to accept as normal viewing on weekly prime-time things they’d never have thought they would – transgender Chaz Bono, say, or Bristol Palin or one season’s winner, badly burn-scarred Iraq War veteran and soap star J.R. Martinez.

Talent contests have been essential to broadcasting since “Major Bowes’ Amateur Hour” began on radio in the ’30s. So have personal narratives of terrible hardship. (No show on primordial TV could best the likes of “Queen for a Day” or “Strike It Rich.”)

All we have now are clever 21st century ways to mash the two together as “reality TV” that’s primitive but huge audience bait.

What the last season of DWTS proved for us, though, is that interest in these shows themselves as soap operas and comic spectacles is as potentially popular as anything the outside world might offer.

If the judges and emcee on “America’s Got Talent” want to goof around a little for the sake of ego palliatives, they should be allowed to.

As long as the show doesn’t forget the business it’s in.

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Mon, 9 Jun 2014 16:55:14 -0400 Jeff Simon
<![CDATA[ Open letter to New Urbanist movement ]]>
I want to like you. Really I do.

You have offered a lot of fantastic ideas for making cities into more friendly, livable and attractive places. Your accomplishments in Western New York – ridiculously idyllic Larkinville, walkable Elmwood Village, compact East Aurora – are shimmering examples of the movement’s positive impact on communities.

But to my ears, something rings hollow in your city-building rhetoric, so much of which has been flying around town this week during the 22nd annual gathering of the Congress for the New Urbanism, the flagship organization of the movement.

Two of your outspoken and charismatic leaders, Andres Duany and Jeff Speck, were in town this week to offer their perspective on the movement they helped to create and to recruit new members with their siren song about a new urban utopia. I attended Speck’s address to the conference on Wednesday afternoon and came away with plenty of smart suggestions and solid data supporting the New Urbanists’ arguments for developing walkable communities.

But something Speck said toward the end of his presentation gave me serious doubts about the movement’s claims to inclusivity and its interest in improving life for all urban residents. Speck espouses a theory of urban development he calls “urban triage,” a term that means infrastructure investment should go largely to a city’s densest and most-prosperous neighborhoods at the expense of outlying areas.

In explaining that philosophy, Speck said cities need to “concentrate perfection” in certain neighborhoods, distribute money in a way that favors those neighborhoods and focus primarily on downtowns in an effort to increase the health and wealth of citizens.

“Most mayors, city managers and municipal planners feel a responsibility to their entire city,” Speck wrote in his book “Walkable City,” a follow-up to “Suburban Nation,” the so-called “Bible of New Urbanism” that he co-authored with Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zybek. “As a result, they tend to sprinkle the walkability fairy dust indiscriminately. They are also optimists – they wouldn’t be in government otherwise – so they want to believe that they can someday attain a city that is universally excellent. This is lovely, but it is counterproductive.”

It seems clear that the problem with the New Urbanism movement is not in the sensible strategies it suggests for the design and transformation of communities, but in where it believes those strategies should play out and who they should benefit.

As a movement, New Urbanism seems primarily concerned with making prosperous neighborhoods more prosperous and then hoping against hope that the benefits of that prosperity magically extend into sections of town untouched by their charming design sensibility. Hence “urban triage,” a term that connotes a lack of concern for the human occupants of those neighborhoods deemed unworthy of infrastructure investments.

On a recent bicycle tour through the East Side led by activist and East Side resident David Torke and local planner and New Urbanist Chris Hawley, it’s obvious that this neighborhood needs infrastructure development and that local activists and urbanists recognize this need. To suggest that we need to choose between developing our downtown and improving the lives of residents in blighted neighborhoods, as New Urbanists’ “urban triage” philosophy would suggest, is beyond irresponsible.

We’re now living in the nightmarish legacy of trickle-down economics, which has created an unsustainable degree of economic inequality. The last thing we need to do now is create a new crisis of supply-side architecture, only to have to repair it in future decades.

While there was some talk about developing mixed-income neighborhoods, neither the New Urbanist manifestos nor anything I heard during the conference proposed a convincing or coherent strategy for accomplishing that on a grand scale. We mostly heard about reducing the number of street lanes, replacing stoplights with pedestrian-friendly four-way stops, building bike infrastructure and planting trees – all unquestionably smart strategies for making cities safer and more appealing.

But the many small fissures in Duany and Speck’s thinking were on full display this week, especially in Duany’s casual use of the word “retarded” to describe some tendencies of urban design and his disparagement of members of Generation X in a recruitment appeal to Millennials on Thursday night at Silo City.

This is the sort of rabble-rousing language Duany is known for using, and it has gained him a legion of loyal foot soldiers, but I think it hints at some of the movement’s more juvenile and regressive tendencies.

Both Speck and Duany, for instance, are outspoken critics of much contemporary architecture – not only work by starchitects such as Frank Ghery or Zaha Hadid, but of any structures that lack traditional details of the kind you see in buildings by H.H. Richardson or Louis Sullivan.

This is not only a prescription for aesthetic blandness, but a visual representation of the movement’s regressive tendencies, which harken back to some imagined “good old days” that never existed. It’s for this reason that New Urbanism, at least as represented by Speck and Duany, strikes me as deluded, myopic and dismissive of the actual problems American cities face today – namely poverty, the need for broad-based economic development and continued segregation along socioeconomic lines.

You cannot create a truly progressive city merely by reconstituting the neighborhoods of the past, with all their physical, socioeconomic and racial divisions and boundaries perfectly intact. A genuinely progressive city-building movement does not throw up its hands at a city’s most intractable problems or say, as Speck so blithely does in his book “Walkable City,” that we can get to them in another decade.

We need to get to them yesterday. And to solve them, it would help to have the assistance of the architects and city planners who are now trying to remake our cities into smaller and equally exclusive versions of Manhattan. We don’t need to rebuild a traditional city, a traditional neighborhood or a traditional way of life. What we desperately need is to create a new one.

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Mon, 9 Jun 2014 13:32:55 -0400 Colin Dabkowski