Friday, March 31, 2006

What To Watch: Living In TVLand: "William Shatner In Concert"

I've only recently begun to watch the TV show Boston Legal (which, despite my best efforts, I still wind up calling Boston Public 90% of the time), and I've been absolutely fascinated by William Shatner's performance as Denny Crane. I think he does a tremendous job on the show and I'm just riveted when he's on screen.

For this reason, I decided to TiVo the first episode of TV Land's new television series, Living In TV Land, which chronicles the real lives of, shall we say, older TV stars. In upcoming weeks, the show will focus on Sherman Hemsley, Davy Jones and Barry Williams, among others, but the inaugural episode was entitled "William Shatner In Concert."

I had no idea what to expect, but imagined the show would be rather cheesy and gimmick-y like other shows focusing on these types of stars (The Surreal Life, My Fair Brady, etc). What can I say...I was dead wrong. Instead, what I found was a documentary that was interesting, well crafted and well edited, and, most importantly, honest.

"William Shatner In Concert" documents some daily (well, maybe not-so-daily) events in Shatner's life and interperses those with footage from a concert he did recently, featuring the amazing Ben Folds and Joe Jackson. The songs performed were from Shatner's album Has Been, which is actually a terrific piece of work. I was going to say that it's better than it has any right to be, but honestly, it's better than that. Shatner's speaking all the songs, but the lyrics are funny, topical, poignant - if you don't have it, pick it up. But I digress.

Anyway, we see this concert footage along with footage of Shatner at a Star Trek Convention; on a private jet with Leonard Nimoy; riding in a horse show; awaiting the birth of his grandchild; receiving his Emmy for his work on Boston Legal. There's a lot of nuance in the show, in the type of person Shatner is - or at least how he portrays himself - but I'll let you find all of that out on your own. If nothing else, you get to hear a bit of Joe Jackson's kick-ass performance on "Common People," one of the best songs on Has Been.

I can't imagine that all the other episodes will be as good, but I'm looking forward to finding out.

Repeat listings and a preview at Living In TV Land (TV
William Shatner: Has Been (Official Website)

The Michael Jackson Credit Card Prank

Didn't I just post about the dangers of working with those pesky credit card companies?

Here's another great example - and this is a fantastic prank. Boo on them for lack of pictures and charging to see the video, but then again, I may just pay the $2 to check it out. Kudos to them for pulling it off.

Enjoy The Michael Jackson Prank.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Don't shoot the puppy!

Don't Shoot the Puppy
One of the hardest games, EVER.


Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Record Store...From The Past!

In these days of diminishing vinyl, while we all watch the remnants of the vinyl era melt away on eBay or at the record shows, it’s easy to think back to the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s when vinyl ruled and record shops were everywhere. If you ever wished those days would come back or you had a time machine, well your dream has come true, if only for a brief flash in the musical pan.

More stories and pictures here.


Eugene Landy Dies

Eugene Landy, the "doctor" who so famously fought for complete and total ownership over Brian Wilson, has died.

I know instinctually how I felt about this, but just out of curiosity's sake, I went over to the Brian Wilson Message Board to see what the reaction was. The conversations there are generally biased to the point of amusement. But I was surprised to read this sentiment:

While we comment on Dr. L's passing I would remind several of his detractors that for many...Brian's best post treatment tunes were written with Landy still actively in the picture. The material on the unreleased Sweet Insanity album...coupled with that from his first solo lp is pretty darned impressive.

And...Brian is STILL cookin'. Important and worthy of the highest praise. That things deteriorated to the point that they did is terrible. That certain 'treatments' were not worthy of ever being repeated is a whole other story. BUT...the bottom line is the most important aspects of the association were successful.

Not bad points. But I thought this following sentiment put it best:

I was not a fan of his. He was sort of a pal of Brian Wilsons, so i suppose you have to show some respect, but I don't think he is going to the place where you carry a harp.

Beat Poetry with Jazz Background

Okay, this is very nice, even just to have it opened in the backgroun and just sitting minimized.

(does anyone know who or what songs are being performed?)


Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Confessions of a Utility Actor

Well, this article depressed the hell out of me. I'm including it here because I think it's very telling and informative, but if you're an actor, don't read it more than once, you'll want to jump out the window.

I'm including the full article here 'cause Salon makes you jump through hoops to read their shit, but if you want the direct link.... I wouldn't want anybody to think I was, y'know, plagiarizing.

Apologies for the formatting issues.

Mar. 25, 2006 Salon

Confessions of a utility actor
I'm not a star. I'm not even a "name." I'm just a workaday actor trying
to make a living. And after 20 years of waiting for that big break, I'm
ready to move on.

By Peter Birkenhead

When I tell people I'm an actor, the second thing they ask is
always, "What's so-and-so like?" So I keep a mental card catalog of
pithy responses designed to strike just the right balance between
regular-guy humility and possible access to medical records. George
Clooney is a hugger. Portia DeRossi smells really good. And Patrick
Dempsey is very skinny. This Tuesday night I'm on an episode
of "House," and sooner or later I know I'll be at a party telling
someone that Hugh Laurie rides a motorcycle to work.

But to get to that second question I have to answer the first -- "What
shows have you been on?"-- which is usually asked as if I'm on trial
for impersonating an actor. I don't know what makes people so junkyard-
dog proprietary about television shows and their favorite stars. Maybe
it's the intimacy of the TV-watching experience -- after all, we
usually do it at home, alone, on couches. We think of actors as people
we see every night in our living rooms, like old friends we just
haven't gotten around to meeting yet. So if we don't know who someone
is, how can he be an actor?

The answer: with a very thick skin.

I am not one of those "old friend" actors. I'm not a star -- I'm not
even a "name." But I'm not an extra either. Actors like me occupy the
space in people's minds reserved for utility infielders, station wagons
and pizza places. For most people, actors are divided into two groups:
Martin Sheen and furniture. You're part of the pantheon or part of the

When I was young I studied with Uta Hagen, who wrote the seminal
actor's handbook "Respect for Acting." And that's what my friends and I
wanted back then: respect, for acting. That and girls. We very much
wanted our work to be well thought of, admired, but we also wanted to
be famous. Not too famous. Just enough to get sex, but not stalked.
Theater famous.

Mostly we just wanted to act. I know that may be hard to believe, but
when you do it semi-right, acting is actually about getting away from
your ego. It's like riding a rocket away from your ego and becoming
weightless. And the two things you're incapable of when you're floating
up there are thinking and caring what other people think. Any actor who
has ever taken even a few baby steps in the direction of that stupid
delight knows how close to perfection it feels -- and also how much sex
and respect it gets you afterward.

When I left New York eight years ago, I'd been doing pretty well -- a
couple of yearlong runs in the Broadway shows "Brighton Beach Memoirs"
and "Broadway Bound," a few national tours, a bunch of regional
theater. I had a decent if hardly spectacular career going -- I usually
got good reviews, and casting directors were sometimes flattering --
but after I had been in Los Angeles for a couple of weeks, I was pretty
sure I would eventually have a theater named after me. That's because,
on more than one occasion, casting directors had pulled their glasses
off very dramatically and said to me, "You are a great actor." Exactly
like that. Not "You're a great actor," with the contraction, but "You
are a great actor." All five words, spoken slowly. I was shocked. I was
used to auditioning in big rehearsal studios in New York, where I had
to project to be heard by the people at the other end of the room, but
in L.A. I was suddenly auditioning in tiny, little well-appointed
offices, w
ith upholstered furniture, and I was still giving theater-size
performances, full of life-and-death intensity and semaphore-like body
language. Yet I was getting this very dramatic praise.

So I started to believe it. I am a great actor. I stared at the ceiling
at night and rehearsed the avuncular speeches I would make to students
accepting the Peter Birkenhead Scholarship at Juilliard. And then,
after a third week passed and I hadn't signed an actual contract, I
started to realize that, in Hollywood-speak, "You are a great actor"
loosely translates to "You're an actor."

The thing you want to hear at an audition is silence -- the sound of
people quietly smiling. This means, Hey, we're gonna see you next week;
no need to blow smoke in case you become famous; you're getting the job
and that's flattery enough. Over the next few months, I learned how to
stop playing to the balcony and start playing to the couch -- and I
started to hear a lot more encouraging silence. I was getting the hang
of Hollywood.

I finally landed my first television job, playing a fast-talking
schmuck of an agent on a Steven Bochco show called "Murder One." Even I
was struck dumb by how good I was in the audition. I don't think I even
said "thank you" as I left the room, because I was too busy
thinking, "I am a great actor."

Now, there is almost no describing how terrible I was on "Murder One,"
but here's my best shot: You know that famous "deer in the headlights"
look? Well, imagine the same deer about two weeks later. You know,
after the stuffing and mounting. That's the kind of taxidermic look of
fear that you will see on my face if you ever see this scene, which you
will only if they create a show called "TV's Funniest Bloopers and
Apparent Brain Hemorrhages."

Here's what you won't see if you ever catch this episode: Bochco, I
swear, sitting five feet away from me, with his head in his hands.
Seriously. Like, "How did my life come to this?" Like, "How is it
possible that all the safeguards we have in place to prevent this kind
of disaster from happening could all fail on the same day?"

But I got better. I did some recurring roles on a few shows, and I was
a guest star on a bunch of others. I even did another Steven Bochco
show, "NYPD Blue," playing a fast-talking schmuck of a stockbroker
(hey, wait a minute …), whom Dennis Franz "liked" for a murder, and I
started settling into the Los Angeles version of the working actor's

Here's what that life is like: Only 5 percent of people who call
themselves actors earn enough each year from acting to support
themselves. So the number of actors who drive to work in a Porsche, or
home through ornate electronic gates, is microscopic. I drive a Honda
Hybrid, and I park it on the street in front of my apartment building.
I did own a house once, with my ex-wife, but home ownership and
marriage are pretty fragile things for people who sometimes wonder if
they'll ever work again.

So I learned early that when I'm on a set I should do my best to enjoy
myself, which isn't always easy. A Hollywood set is basically a boredom
factory; I can't think of a single day job I've had that wasn't more
pleasant, in a material sense, than working in television. At least
when I waited tables I was in a decorated, well-lit place. There was
the smell of fresh food cooking, and sometimes music was playing. It's
not like that on a soundstage. A soundstage smells like plywood, heated
rubber and Teamsters. It sounds like the inside of a police van on a
stakeout, except when it sounds like a house being renovated. So I
usually find myself spending a lot of time visiting the "crafts
services table" -- the place where all the doughnuts and Twizzlers are
kept. Working in television can be as boring as watching television,
and it's best dealt with exactly the same way: by taking breaks to go
stare at food, and sometimes eat it.

Series regulars, the stars of the shows, all have time killing down to
an art. Tyne Daly knits like crazy. George Clooney shoots hoops. On the
best days, there's a real foxhole-buddies kind of feeling on the set,
and it's pretty easy for me to be seduced into believing I'm on a kind
of egalitarian, socialist TV kibbutz, where everyone comes to work in
jeans and eats breakfast together. There's a lot more getting along
than you might think, and everyone is busy pitching in. The Steadicam
guy is trying to walk backward around the actors as they do emergency
rhinoplasty, and the props guy is trying to find a scalpel that has
suddenly been added to the scene. It's Mickey and Judy with $10

The first thing I do when I get to work is make friends with the
director of photography. He's the one responsible for the way every
shot is framed and lit. At my most well rested I have dark circles
under my eyes, and the D.P. is the one who decides whether I get to
look like a really tired Jerry Seinfeld or a dead Steve Buscemi. This
is the kind of thing I never cared about in New York, but need to care
about now.

I finally became a series regular on a very bad Ted Danson sitcom
called "Becker," playing his only mildly schmucky cousin/accountant.
Now, I'd be lying if I said my first thought wasn't "I'm gonna get to
take my new girlfriend to Ted Danson's house for lunch, and she's gonna
think I'm the shit." But my second thought was about getting back to
New York, and what a two-bedroom apartment might be going for in, oh,
about five years. I got tons of laughs during rehearsals for the pilot;
Ted Danson even told me I was "great" (uh oh), and the night we shot
the pilot, his wife, Mary Steenburgen, grabbed me by the arm and
said "I love your character most of all." Just before the show, I took
a walk around the place to soak in the feeling of my new home, and for
the first time since I'd worked on Broadway, I let myself imagine a
life that included enough health insurance to have children. But I was
fully fluent in Hollywood-speak by then, so I knew that when, at the
party on the set
afterward, the president of Paramount Television gave me a big hug and
said, "You are going to be at Paramount for a very long time," it meant
I was going to be at Paramount for about 11 more minutes. My character
was cut from the show a month later.

The executive producer called me to deliver the news and said he had
just gotten off the phone with Les Moonves, the president of CBS, and
that Les had said, among other things, "I'm a big Peter Birkenhead
fan." As my grandfather might have said, "With fans like that, who
needs hot air?"

I thought I would be devastated -- I wanted to be devastated. But the
truth is, when I saw an episode of "Becker" a few months later, I could
hear the distinct and comforting sound of a bullet whizzing by my head.
And you know what was most comforting of all? That it happened again,
right away. The first job I got after "Becker" was on "Frasier," and
that character was cut, too. I realized that losing jobs was just part
of the job. My metamorphosis into an L.A. actor was complete.

I've worked a lot since then, on shows like "Ally McBeal," "The West
Wing," "Six Feet Under" and "Grey's Anatomy" -- mostly in parts that
were interesting enough to keep me chasing the next job and well paying
enough to cover the rent. None of that would have happened if I hadn't
gotten hugged at Paramount, so I'm grateful things went the way they
did. And now they're going a new way.

The guiding principle in television is "get the shot," which means keep
shooting, and talking, no matter what happens, because it might be good
enough to move on and finish the episode on time and keep your job. So
actors keep plugging away, trying to get the shot -- get their shot at
making it -- even when the odds are staggeringly against them. But the
definition of "making it" keeps changing as you hit your 40s and people
like Donald Trump become stars.

Don't get me wrong, I'm still an actor -- I'm still available for the
calls when they come -- but mostly I'm busy with other things. I've
written the word "actor" in the "occupation" space on my tax return for
20 years, but this year I'll probably put "writer."

My old dogmas about doing only the noble work of theater became
obsolete as soon as I discovered the nobility to be had in punching a
studio clock and getting paid for an honest day's work. But I'm not
sure how much longer I'll be doing that. Being an actor requires a
belief in limitless possibilities, and these days I actually prefer
limits. When you suspect a star-making, life-changing gig is around
every corner it becomes difficult to believe in anything else. But I
still watch television, and I love seeing my friends when they're in
something. It's always like watching a small triumph: Someone's working
again after a dry spell, or got their dental insurance back.

A little happy ending, at least for now.

-- By Peter Birkenhead

Thursday, March 23, 2006

WPLJ's "Big Montage"

Caution: this is a music geek post.

Long story short: while I do enjoy 95.5 FM WPLJ from time to time, it used to be so much more. From 1974 - 1983, WPLJ was known as "New York's Best Rock," and it was an unbelievable station. (You can find a summary/history of WPLJ here.) As the Wiki mentions: During its album-oriented phase, it was most noted for its "montages"; snippets of classic-rock songs were spliced together around a particular subject, such as gasoline (during the gas shortages of the 1970s).

Over at the New York Radio Message Board, webmaster Allan Sniffen has posted the "Big Montage," as created by famed DJ Pat St. John. It's 22 minutes of unbelievable craftsmanship and artistry - and at at that length, I warned you: it's for the music geeks in the room. (Mike, Ace, Jeff, bdure, I'm looking in your general direction.)

As one poster mentions, remember: this was done before computers. Everything was done using actual tape, razor blades, and a shitload of patience. I don't mean to be overly sentimental, but you can really hear the love put into this thing.

If only we could get New York's Best Radio back on the air. Instead, we're stuck with jack. Literally.

Pat St. John's "Big Montage" from WPLJ (RealAudio file)

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Elvis, as context for Chicago

If you haven't been reading the fantastic Jefitoblog music reviews and downloading all the tracks he's giving away, you've been missing out.

But I'll be honest with you: while I enjoy it when he reviews an album he loves, I love it more when he reviews an album he hates.

Chicago XXX is such an album. Jeff had prepared me for a negative review, but I had no idea how serious he was, or how far it was going to go. Jeff has compared each stage of Chicago's career to a similar stage of Elvis' career - with them even meeting the same demise: "Chicago as dead Elvis."

I almost feel bad getting so much joy out of his frustration with this album, but on the bright side, it makes for a great read. Enjoy, and download the terrible songs, too. You'll be sorry that you did.

Jefitoblog: Listening Booth: Chicago, "XXX"


Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Shake Shack Opens Officially TODAY!

drooooooool...Gothamist reported that they even opened a day early! If you live in NYC and you haven't yet gone to Shake Shack, SHAME ON YOU.

My favorite part about the Gothamist article is one of the comments:

A trick to shake shack is to give them a name like "John' or "Mark" and order the cheapest thing like a burger. When they call the order for another John who's probably ordered an entire meal take that shit. you can get 20 bucks of food for like 2 bucks.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Down Deep

Someone handed this magazine to me the other day and I immediately thought of Jason's obsession with "What A Fool Beleives." I never knew anything about MM as a person or artist so this was quite enlightening for me.

Weekly Feature You hear his voice everywhere—on the radio, at the grocery store, in television commercials. That unmistakable, soulful baritone. Where does it come from?
Down Deep
By Michael McDonald
Nashville, Tennessee

I have this recurring dream. i’m driving a car on a racecourse with no one else around. There’s a turn up ahead. I try to steer, but I bang into a wall. Then another. Desperately, I try to get control. But it’s no use. No matter how hard I try, I keep careening off the walls, losing control.
It’s taken me a long time to understand that dream. But a young boy I met 25 years ago started me on the right track.
In 1980 things couldn’t have been better for my band, the Doobie Brothers. Our album Minute by Minute had sold three million copies and we’d won four Grammys for the song "What a Fool Believes." I should have been on top of the world. Truth was, I’d never been so unhappy.


Wednesday, March 15, 2006

My Head Is Exploding

Oh Z......

Baseball's Best Burger: a bacon cheesburger inside two Krispy Kreme doughnuts.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Craigslist, Redesigned

From Valleywag: "A six-man panel redesigned Craigslist for SXSW. The new design is gorgeous, slick, and almost as small as the original"

(sniff!) It's beautiful! It'd be nice if Craig actually considered it.

Monday, March 13, 2006

On Why We All Need Shredders

This was posted on Waxy. The minute I saw the title, I knew it was a Cockeyed production.

The Torn-Up Credit Card Application

*shudder* I can't believe that this actually worked for him. I don't own a shredder - I usually tear all those credit card mailings in half - but maybe it's time...


Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Sitcom Foibles

Two major stories that I have missed regarding '80s sitcoms, and I blame all of you:

1) Why did nobody inform me that Jodie "Stephanie Tanner" Sweetin from Full House had a meth problem? (and when did she get hot?)

2) The cast of Growing Pains was on Larry King Live and nobody told me?? Jeremy Miller is working in China because he has "a large, large following out there."

I was going to post a picture of the Growing Pains cast, but I think it's more fun if you do the related Google Images search. Mainly because one picture that comes up is of the Family Ties cast, and another of the cast of Facts of Life.

Monday, March 06, 2006

The Japanese are AMAZING!!!!

Does anybody know the story behind all these videos? Are they all from one TV show or something? I'm still trying to figure out the t-shirt one and I've been staring at it for something like a year now:


Friday, March 03, 2006

Why New Yorkers Are Complete Fools, Reason #762

New York Times: Learning To Live In A (Slightly) Larger Space

Now, a month after moving in, the two are adjusting to their new space — an extra 100 square feet. The wall of closets is "really exciting," Ms. Rope said. "I am wearing more varied outfits because I can see all of my clothes now."

Thursday, March 02, 2006

You Wanna Go Where Everybody Knows Z's Name

The Burger Club message board

Keytars! Keytars, all!

Again and again and again, I just have to say...God Bless YouTube.

Herbie Hancock. Stevie Wonder. Howard Jones with big hair, and Thomas Dolby with even bigger hair (and white gloves!). "Synthesizer Medley," as performed at the 1985 Grammy Awards. I'm guessing 90% of this was pre-recorded, but still...awesome.

Bonus link #1: Stevie Wonder singing "Close To You" using one of those freaky synth vox thingies. I'm assuming this is somewhere in 1972 since he's promoting Music Of My Mind.

Bonus link #2 (for music geeks only): Stevie on the same talk show, demoing his synth.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Presenting...The Wangcaster

It takes balls to play this guitar in pubic public. (semi-NSFW)

(Thank you! I'll be here all week!)