Sunday, December 10, 2017

Year-End Notes on TCM Diversity

Sunday morning I watched Ed Muller, the excellent host/writer of the Noir Alley weekend show on TCM, present the 1950 film, THE BREAKING POINT.  It starred John Garfield, Patricia Neal and, in a supporting role, the gifted Black/Latino actor Juano Hernandez.
Let's face it. In film noir features from Hollywood, Black actors were never in the lead roles.  THE BREAKING POINT is a film I first saw when I was in grade school.  Dad watched it on local Channel 9 in Los Angeles and I watched it with him.  Even at that young age, I knew I loved movies and even wanted to be in them.  The final scene with the little Black son stayed in my mind.  I wished I was that kid actor.  According to Muller after the film, that youngster was Juano Hernandez's real life son.  Watching THE BREAKING POINT with Dad was my introduction to John Garfield and, later, to Ernest Hemingway.  It was based on Hemingway material.  When Muller mentioned the discomforting racial language in the story, I knew what he was talking about.  Hemingway was one of Dad's favorite writers.  The source material was on our bookshelves in the living room.  Life in South Central L.A.  Hemingway's story had a liberal use of the N-word coming out of one character's mouth.  I was thrilled that host Eddie Muller mentioned that final scene and the performance of Juano Hernandez.  Thanks, Eddie.
But we still have to consider this count:  The number of Black characters discussed in 1950's THE BREAKING POINT?  2.  The number of Black hosts I've seen solo presenting features on TCM this year? 0.  And we're quickly approaching the end of 2017.
Early this year, there was the TCM Film Festival in Hollywood.  A highlight was the 50th anniversary screening of Norman Jewison's IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT, a murder mystery and race drama set in the Deep South.  Jewison was present for the screening.  So were stars Lee Grant and screen legend Sidney Poitier.  Host Ben Mankiewicz asked the film's producer, Walter Mirisch, about the racial relevance the Best Picture of 1967 Oscar winner still has today in this age of "Black Lives Matter" and "Oscars So White."  It was a great question.  Ben's a fine host.  Yet, I noticed that there was no African American contributor for TCM on that red carpet who could comment on or add to the discussion of the classic film's racial relevance.

In June, Dave Karger hosted a look at Gay Hollywood for Gay Pride Month.
No films benefitting from LGBT African American talents were in the line-up of films that I noticed.
I would've added the 1961 film adaptation of Broadway's A RAISIN IN THESUN.  The screenplay was by its groundbreaking African American playwright -- Lorraine Hansberry.  Hansberry was a trailblazing playwright, activist ... and a lesbian.
We'll learn more about that come January when a new documentary on Lorraine Hansberry premieres on PBS.
I would've also mentioned Ashley Boone -- a big and beloved power in Hollywood.  I first learned of this African American executive's brilliance from the remarkable Robert Osborne in one of his CBS segments before his TCM years.  I miss Robert Osborne. He felt that Ashley Boone deserved mention in books about Hollywood studio heads because Boone practically ran 20th Century Fox for half a year, taking a top executive spot when the studio was in turmoil and sad financial shape.  Boone was a marketing whiz who moved up within studio ranks.  He took a Fox film that many predicted would be released directly to drive-in movie theaters and he used his marketing genius on it.  His marketing genius worked.  Not only did STAR WARS get respectable theatrical release and become a box office blockbuster, it was an Oscar nominee for Best Picture.  Ashley Boone did the same for THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, SOUNDER, JULIA, THE TURNING POINT starring Anne Bancroft and Shirley MacLaine, ALIEN, Mel Brooks' YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN and Mel Brooks' HIGH ANXIETY.  He and his sister, Cheryl, were the first-ever brother and sister to serve on the Academy's Board of Governors.  Cheryl Boone Isaacs went on to make Academy history as its first African American president.
Ashley Boone died of pancreatic cancer at age 55 in the 1990s.  He was a trailblazer and a visionary. He was survived by his sister and his significant other, Mark Bua.

In addition to Noir Alley, his TCM Sunday morning show, Eddie Muller is also the host in short promo segments for the TCM Wine Club.  We have yet to see an African American sip wine with Eddie Muller in one of those segments.  Have you seen the TCM Wine Club bottles?

 We don't even see a Black screen legend on any of the bottles!

No Lena Horne, no Ethel Waters, no Sidney Poitier.

Alec Baldwin is now the host of THE ESSENTIALS seen on Saturday nights.  He didn't bring on any African American talent to cohost with him this year.
And the African American presence as monthly Guest Programmers for 2017 was, shall we say, rare.  Thank Heaven for actress/director/film historian/TCM contributor Illeana Douglas!

The absolutely fabulous Illeana Douglas presented her final month-long salute to TRAILBLAZING WOMEN. She always brought on a racially diverse group of women to co-host with her.  In fact, in 2016, one of her co-hosts was groundbreaking African American filmmaker Julie Dash.  Dash, the DAUGHTERS OF THE DUST director, was dynamite going from co-hosting with Illeana to being a solo guest host for December 2016.
That's the last time I recall seeing an African American host on TCM.  Last December.  For this December's special TCM big screen showings of 1967's GUESS WHO'S COMING TO DINNER, another classic starring Sidney Poitier, it would've been very nice to see an African American co-host the special introduction for the Oscar-winning interracial love story drama with knowledgeable weekend host, Tiffany Vazquez.  Tiffany was the solo host.
I've been a devoted TCM viewer since 1999.  I will continue to watch.  I wish TCM a very happy new year -- and I hope it gets the message that representation matters.  We Black viewers would love to see ourselves represented more.



Thursday, December 7, 2017

Podcast Time with Bobby and Keith

Sex! Sex! Sex! Sex! Sex!  Will Keith Price make me address yet more male sexual misconduct allegations in this news?  Well, we can't ignore the stories anymore than we could ignore an elephant in the living room.  With all the money that goes into film and TV productions, the scandals are affecting budgets and salaries.  Shows are being cancelled and parts are being quickly recast and re-shot.  Christopher Plummer replaced Kevin Spacey in the upcoming film ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD.  Charlie Rose's prestigious nighttime talk show was yanked off all PBS stations.  Just last month, Jeremy Piven's new CBS drama series, WISDOM OF THE CROWD, is already history.  It seems like if a male performer is accused, he's replaced even before he can respond to the accusations.  These kind of scandals are costly in the film and TV industry.  With that in mind, I ask Keith if a certain classic play is ripe for another revival.  Before our sex talk, we discuss Magic Meryl.  Actress Meryl Streep.  She has 3 Oscars and a total of 20 Oscar nominations to her credit.  She is simply not of this earth.
Later this month, moviegoers can see La Diva Streep teamed with Tom Hanks in a new Steven Spielberg drama based in a real life story.
It's called THE POST.  The 1976 classic, ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN, took us into The Washington Post newspaper for a terrific, taut look at the journalism that exposed the Watergate scandal and brought down President Nixon.  Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman played the real life reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward.  (It's airing on HBO this month.  Look for it.)  THE POST focuses on another talk of investigative journalism versus shady White House politics.  This story happened at the same newspaper before the Watergate break-in.  Hanks plays the paper's legendary editor and journalism giant, Ben Bradlee.  Meryl Streep plays Katharine Graham, the first female publisher of major American newspaper.  Spielberg's THE POST is set in the early 1970s.
We also have a few special words about Hollywood screen legend, Kirk Douglas.  Can I remind you yet again that he was my first and only guest on the premiere edition of my VH1 talk show in 1988? Here's a short clip of when I asked him what he thought of his Oscar-winning son, Michael, playing a top Broadway choreographer/director in the film version of A CHORUS LINE.

Keith Price and I would absolutely love if you could give us a listen, *like* us, write some comments, tell your friends and agents about us.... stuff like that there.  Treat your ears this coming weekend at:  www.MOCHAA.podomatic.com.

Oh!  One more thing.  Keith and I just want to give a very loving shout-out to P.J. Johnson.  She gave one of the most memorable movie performances of the 1970s as Imogene, the teen maid to Madeline Kahn's Trixie Delight character in the classic film comedy, PAPER MOON.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Billy on the Bus

Lord, have mercy! This news of Billy Bush vs. Trump and Matt Lauer's TV career experiencing G-force from its rapid descent is stuff even the late Jackie Collins could not have dreamed up for fictional broadcast characters in one of her racy novels.  Yes, I was shocked to read the graphic reports of Lauer's alleged sexual misconduct.  I was also stunned to read that he lives on a $33 million estate in the Hamptons and owns a $30 million estate in New Zealand.  One man.  I thought of all the 30 Rock NBC news workers in the past, the little people behind the scenes, who made way, way, way less money but were the first to be laid off when the company had to "tighten its belt."  As I've said on my podcast with Keith Price, I used to work on-air with Matt Lauer in 1992 on local WNBC News.  This was before his TODAY Show stardom. But you could tell that his star was definitely on the ascendant.  I worked part-time.  My salary was...well, nothing to brag about even though I was on one of the top stations in the city and I had years of national TV credits.  More about that later.  Billy Bush wrote (with help, I'm sure) an opinion piece that got printed in THE NEW YORK TIMES.  Trump, in a totally Trump-like move, has recently suggested that he really didn't say those sexually offensive things about women -- even though he apologized for them when the tape was leaked.  Billy Bush broke the news that, yes, Trump really did say those things.  Trump, in his THE APPRENTICE host days on NBC in 2005, was on an ACCESS HOLLYWOOD bus with ACCESS HOLLYWOOD host Billy Bush and engaged in lewd locker room talk while his mic was still hot.  Trump said the now infamous "...grab 'em by the pu$$y," but Billy got fired for it a year ago. Wah-Wah-Waaaaah.
When the tape surfaced, Billy Bush had graduated from ACCESS HOLLYWOOD (an NBC production) to the TODAY Show.  He was co-host of the third hour of the show with Al Roker.  You got the feeling Al welcomed Billy the way you'd welcome ants to a picnic.  Then came the Rio Olympics.  Billy "broke" the news story that swimmer Ryan Lochte had been "robbed at gunpoint," according to Ryan Lochte.  Billy really didn't ask probing journalistic questions and we all later discovered that Lochte lied.  The racial undercurrent was that he blamed the crime -- a crime that did not happen -- basically on local minorities.  Poor brown people who live in the low-income neighborhood.  When Billy said on TODAY that Ryan was misunderstood, Al Roker charged in declaring "He lied!"  This was a rare case of Al getting loud and serious about something racially controversial.
But Billy got canned for the ACCESS HOLLYWOOD tape leak.  I feel he was really canned for making NBC's favorite candidate look bad.  Just my opinion.  All of this seems to be playing out against a backdrop of white male privilege.  When Trump was an NBC show host, he repeatedly offended millions of us African Americans by tweeting and declaring that President Obama was not a real American.  He demanded to see his birth certificate.  Trump still kept his job.  Matt Lauer did extremely well financially working for NBC.  And so did former entertainment news host Billy Bush.

In his op-ed piece, Billy Bush wrote:  "The key to succeeding in my line of work was establishing a strong rapport with celebrities."

By the time I was approached to work on WNBC News, I had hosted my own weeknight celebrity talk show on VH1, I'd been invited by Lucille Ball to come over to her home for cocktails, I'd been taken out to dinner by Val Kilmer, I'd spoken to Mary Tyler Moore a few times on the phone, and I'd flown to London for an exclusive 1-hour VH1 interview with Paul McCartney.  Here's a short clip.
Now...about Billy Bush's success.  Maybe he wasn't hired solely because he's a member of the GOP Bush Family.  But I have a feeling it didn't hurt.  He was a DJ in Washington, DC on a rock morning radio show.  The show was called BILLY BUSH AND THE BUSH LEAGUE.  With no TV experience and no journalism background of any kind, he left that radio show and got hired by WNBC local news in New York.  I believe this was in the fall of 2001.  I watched his lifestyle features on the local morning news.  I'd worked for that same local TV news company.  In a Sunday section of THE NEW YORK TIMES, there was an article about the new dude on WNBC local news and a mention of the White House history in his family tree.  A few months after his local WNBC debut, Billy Bush was doing features on the TODAY Show.

By February 2003, Billy Bush was not only a regular on NBC's ACCESS HOLLYWOOD, he was hosting the Miss Universe pageant on national TV and he was promoting his primetime NBC revival of LET'S MAKE A DEAL.  He'd taped 5 episodes.
I started at WNBC in September 1992. A contract player.  My dream of the being one of the first Black people to do regular film reviews in the studio along with celebrity interviews was dashed when white producers -- my bosses -- kept commenting that they didn't think I had "the skills" to do that kind of thing.  I'd later learn that they'd never look at my resume or demo reels.  They ignored my history.  I was assigned to go out in the field and do funny live-shots at community events.  And I was told I should consider myself lucky to have that job.  I did get an occasional celebrity interview segment, but only after I fought for them.  I quit the show in January 1995 when I was told flat out by my boss that I would never be promoted to full-time and I would never advance to doing network features.

Billy Bush went network a year after he started on WNBC local and he went on to make millions.  He was advanced.  I don't think he had to fight for a promotion.  Not the way employees of color probably had to.  Still, his opinion piece brought up some good points.  And the writing was mature. I worked with Billy for one week.  New York City morning radio station, WPLJ, had its own version of AMERICAN IDOL for a week in 2003.  I was one of the guest judges.  Billy Bush was another one.  He struck me as an overaged, privileged frat boy who graduated without having studied much.

When Billy was fired from TODAY a year ago, leaving the show with only one contributor member of the Bush Family (Jenna Bush Hager), he was reportedly given a $9 million severance.  He's looking for work.  So am I.  I've been seeking steady work since 2011.

What a tale of three former NBC talents!  TODAY is erasing all memory of Matt Lauer and Billy Bush, related to two living former U.S. Republican presidents, is challenging Trump, our current Republican president.  If only NETWORK screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky had lived to see all this.

Here's some more of my VH1 history that WNBC local news bosses of mine ignored from 1992 to 1995.
 My podcast can be heard at www.MOCHAA.podomatic.com.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Oscar Nominee Dorothy Dandridge

I grew up in South Central Los Angeles, a child during the turbulent and rewarding Civil Rights era.  My parents were in awe of Dorothy Dandridge.  They were in awe of her and they were angry at they way racial inequality crippled her film career after her groundbreaking leap over Hollywood color barriers.  Lena Horne often respectfully referred to Dorothy Dandridge as "our Marilyn Monroe."
She starting getting speaking roles in the films in the 1940s when most Black actresses were assigned credited and non-credited screen roles as maids.  In the early 1950s, she went after a role unlike any she'd ever played.  Not only that, it was a lead role.  This kind of opportunity was rare for a Black woman in Hollywood at that time.
For her dazzling performance in 1954's dramatic screen musical, CARMEN JONES, Dorothy Dandridge became the first African American woman to be an Oscar nominee for Best Actress.
A supporting player in the all-Black cast is Diahann Carroll.  Carroll would go on to become the first African American woman to win the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Broadway musical (1962's NO STRINGS).  She'd also follow Dorothy Dandridge as one of the few Black women to be an Oscar nominee for Best Actress (1974's CLAUDINE).
Pearl Bailey was also in the cast which included Harry Belafonte, Brock Peters and Roy Glenn (seen later as the father to Sidney Poitier's character in GUESS WHO'S COMING TO DINNER).
Cable's TCM is showing CARMEN JONES on Sunday night, Dec. 3rd.  If you get a chance to see it or if you rent it at another time, I bet you'll also be amazed at how Dandridge makes the screen sizzle as the doomed vamp.  The story of a modern reworking of the Bizet opera, CARMEN, with modern lyrics added to Bizet's music.  Dandridge could sing -- and did in movies -- but she didn't have an operatic voice.  Her operatic singing was dubbed by Marilyn Horne.

Dandridge was serious about her craft.  She studied.  So did her sister.  And she was a screen veteran, if you will, by the time she got the plum role in Otto Preminger's 1954 Fox musical.  The Dandridge Sisters, Dorothy and Vivian, are seen singing in a 1937 MGM musical number.  The movie is A DAY AT THE RACES starring The Marx Brothers.  Dorothy and Vivian Dandridge are in the "All God's Chillun (Children) Got Rhythm" number, a swing dance number with the Marx Brothers characters with the residents in the Black section of town.  In the 1941 Fox musical, SUN VALLEY SERENADE, she sings and dances the "Chattanooga Choo Choo" number with the Nicholas Brothers.  She marry one of them.  In the 1941 desert war drama, SUNDOWN, pretty Dorothy Dandridge plays an African princess opposite screen beauty Gene Tierney.  Like most other black actress at that time, Dandridge played her share of maids in bit parts.  The 1950s were better for her, script-wise, and they should have been great for her after her Oscar nomination.  She was gorgeous and a good actress with musical skills. But she was Black.
The Oscar race for Best Actress of 1954 was one of the hottest in Hollywood history.  It's still legendary.  The favorite was Judy Garland for her spectacular screen comeback in the 1954 musical drama remake of A STAR IS BORN.  Her main competition was the popular new star, Grace Kelly for the drama, THE COUNTRY GIRL.  See for yourself that Dorothy Dandridge as CARMEN JONES was a serious Oscar contender.
Grace Kelly won.

When you watch CARMEN JONES, you will see Dorothy Dandridge's charisma and talent.  She commands the screen.  She's also a very strong actress.  In A STAR IS BORN, Garland introduces the torch sing, "The Man That Got Away."  Hers is a dynamic rendition of a number than runs about 4 and a half minutes in screen time.  Her number is shot in one continuous take.  No cuts, no edits.  Cukor said that it takes a very strong actress to pull that off -- and Judy pulled it off.

Notice how long the takes are in CARMEN JONES.  Not just in Dandridge's numbers but in leading man Harry Belafonte's numbers too.  Dorothy Dandridge can handle the long takes because she's a strong actress.  In the case of this production, limitations due to it having an all-Black cast probably also played a part in the long takes.  They may have been denied the budget and time for other takes and movie star close-ups there on the Fox lot.  There's where the movie was shot.  Let me explain using other musicals as examples:  When you see Mitzi Gaynor sing in SOUTH PACIFIC, Deborah Kerr sing in THE KING AND I and Shirley Jones sing in OKLAHOMA! and CAROUSEL -- all of those films being Fox musicals of the 1950s -- they get lovely close-ups in their numbers. A glamour shot, if you will.  Dorothy Dandridge, as lovely as she was, gets no glamorous close-ups.  The camera stays on a one-shot when she sings.  She was most deserving of glamorous close-ups.  Our loss that she didn't get them.  CARMEN JONES also led to another breakthrough for Dandridge.  The film role made her the first African American woman to grace the cover of prestigious LIFE Magazine.
Dandridge and Belafonte had worked together before and worked in a film after CARMEN JONES.  1957's ISLAND IN THE SUN was set in Carribean and had several British stars.  James Mason, Joan Collins, Michael Rennie, Stephen Boyd and Joan Fontaine headed the cast.  It was shot on location and there were interracial romances in the storylines.  Reportedly, Joan Fontaine received racial hate mail for playing the elegant woman who falls for a young doctor played by Harry Belafonte. Dandridge had a supporting role in the 1957 film.  It was her first role after her 1954 breakthrough success as a leading lady.

Dandridge did not get another major Hollywood studio opportunity until Goldwyn's 1959 adaptation of the famous Broadway musical drama PORGY AND BESS.  She was captivating as Bess -- as charismatic and glamorous as ever.  Sidney Poitier and Sammy Davis, Jr. were her co-stars.  Just imagine would could have been after CARMEN JONES if Hollywood had been open to diversity and equal opportunities. 1959's PORGY AND BESS was the late Dorothy Dandridge's last Hollywood screen opportunity due to racial discrimination.

This is a huge reason why the diversity and inclusion issues are still important and why we performers of color raise our voices about the issues today.  1954's CARMEN JONES is available on DVD.

Halle Berry won a Best Actress Emmy for playing the late trailblazer in the HBO biopic, INTRODUCING DOROTHY DANDRIDGE (1999).  Halle Berry made Hollywood history as the first and, as of now, only Black woman to win the Oscar for Best Actress.  She won for MONSTER'S BALL in 2002.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

My Mornings Next to Matt Lauer

Handsome. Funny. Charismatic.  And he kissed me on live local TV in New York City.  That's Matt Lauer.  We worked together on a WNBC TV news show in 1992.  I talk about that with my producer/friend Keith Price in our current podcast.  Matt and I were on the original team for WEEKEND TODAY IN NEW YORK, a local morning news program that premiered on WNBC in September 1992.  I was on camera with Matt back when we each had a full head o' hair.
I talk about how Matt tried to help me in a very frustrating and humiliating work environment.  I loved sitting next to him and doing local morning news segments.  His quick wit and breezy charm clicked with co-workers and viewers.  Especially female viewers. Network stardom for him seemed inevitable.  In our podcast, Keith and I go into the Matt Lauer scandal. We discuss the toxic masculinity infecting workplace systems like a virus that has humiliated women and robbed us of their talent. Yes, I was stunned to read this week's news about Matt and why he was fired.
Keith and I have voiced our position that there is a direct link from the disrespect of women we've heard about in the high profile sexual misconduct stories to the diversity and inclusion barriers we people of color meet in the entertainment industry.

As you'll hear in our podcast, during my time at WNBC, news came out that a white male network news producer used a racial slur in a staff meeting.  I had to deal with homophobia from my boss, the WNBC news director.  I tell that account in the podcast.  We also give our opinions on the NBC Trump factor.  You should hear us. Please give us a listen and *like* us at www.MOCHAA.podomatic.com.

Keith and I also have some entertainment recommendations -- an excellent foreign film and an upcoming TV special.

Oh!  About the kiss.  I was in the field in downtown Manhattan for WEEKEND TODAY IN NEW YORK, talking live on the air about a charity event.  I didn't know that Lauer had shown up and spotted our TV truck.  He was sneaking up behind me as I spoke and planted a playful smooch on my cheek.

His firing from NBC show us that the playing field in the workplace has not been level.  There's still gender ...and race...improvement to be addressed.



Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Biopic About Modigliani

One of my all-time favorite film performances delivered by an actor illuminates a foreign biopic that, I believe, is not widely known here in the USA.  The 1958 film is about Amodeo Modigliani, the painter.  We see that the gifted yet poor painter, an excessive drinker, is nearing an untimely death.  He'd die at the age of 35.  Ironically, the gifted French actor who played him was also nearing an untimely death.  He'd die at the age of 36.  The film, MONTPARNASSE 19, is coming out on Blu-ray.  This look at the sad life of Modigliani starred the late Gérard Philipe.
I discovered this film in September 2013 and blogged about it.  Modi, as the artist is called, has a pitiful life.  He makes very little money.  His artwork, for the most part, goes unappreciated.  It's treated like water from the faucet.  It's taken for granted until the day its service is turned off.  Even when his artwork does gain attention and his luck seems to change, the attention turns cold because of society's limited vision and conservative sexual mores. In death, Modigliani will be acclaimed.  His artwork will sell for millions of dollars.
If you have time, go into my blog pieces for 2013, September, and find my FRENCH STAR AS MODIGLIANI post.
I read the news that MONTPARNASSE 19 is getting a Blu-ray release on the www.dvdbeaver.com website.  Look for the Blu-ray drama film release on www.arrowfilms.com.  Or check www.amazon.com.

When I saw Gérard Philipe's performance back in September 2013, I knew I would have to see it again.  And I did.  About three times the following week.  Philipe's performance drew me into the soul of his character and stayed with me long after the film was over.  Philipe's brilliance and emotional nakedness lingered in my heart for days like a sweet ghost.  He's so moving in MONTPARNASSE 19.  From what I've read, he's a film icon in France because of his talent and untimely death. Like Marilyn Monroe and James Dean here in the U.S.  I bet that, had he lived and worked with Godard and Truffaut in French New Wave films of the 1960s, he'd be known to classic film fans here in America today.  Gérard Philipe died of liver cancer in 1959.

Jacques Becker directed MONTPARNASSE 19.  Also starring in his biopic are Anouk Aimée, Lilli Palmer and the rugged Lino Ventura.
Check out my September 2013 blog post, FRENCH STAR AS MODIGLIANI for more on this portrait of an artist dying young with an unforgettable performance by Gérard Philipe.










Monday, November 27, 2017

Memories of NETWORK (1976)

What a year that was.  We were dancing to disco music.  We were thrilled for the Summer of 1976.  It was America's Bicentennial Year.  The same year we celebrated our Declaration of Independence, out came an intense, incendiary, original satire called NETWORK.  This take-down of the TV industry showed us our freedom and individuality being gobbled up by greedy corporations.  NETWORK, starring the late Peter Finch as delusional network news anchor Howard Beale, opened nationwide on November 27, 1976.  Beale was like a crazed John the Baptist crying out "I'm as mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore!"
I was working in Milwaukee radio at the time.  NETWORK opened a couple of years before I started my TV career.  When it was released, there was still a noticeable division between news and entertainment on TV.  The first time I saw NETWORK, with its original screenplay by Paddy Chayefsky, it was like a punch to the gut.  It made you laugh while also making an impact.  It made such an impact on me that I paid to see it more than once.  Each time I went to see it again, the movie theater was packed.  NETWORK was a hit.  Audiences headed to see a smart, intelligent and prophetic satire.  Nowadays, audiences of that size are mostly sitting through another big screen superhero action sequel.  Directed by Sidney Lumet, this film brought Faye Dunaway the Oscar for Best Actress.
Have you seen NETWORK lately?  You should.  It still holds up.  Not only does it hold up, but the soulless network producer that Faye Dunaway played was victorious in terms of the kind of TV programming we see today.  When delusional Howard Beale gets on the air and spontaneously vents his angers, it hits a nerve with the public.  Ratings zoom up.  Diana (Dunaway's character) takes advantage of the situation to pitch other products.  When I saw the film, the movie audience laughed and gasped when she pitched a weekly reality that followed a SWAT team.  Years later, we had a popular TV show called COPS.  Think of other reality shows.  Diana offended our sense of good taste and good journalism but we had no idea that she represented our future.
One huge laugh NETWORK got each time I saw it in a theater was when Beale's network news program had been revamped to include a live studio audience.  Moviegoers thought that a news story segment getting applause like a variety show piece was the height of absurdity.
That was 1976.  It's now 2017.  Look at the second hour of ABC's GOOD MORNING AMERICA when it's time for pop news.

Another big laugh NETWORK got came when the revamped news program had a regular called "Sybil the Soothsayer."  She made predictions.  Again, that was 1976.  In the 1996, I was a regular on Fox 5's GOOD DAY NEW YORK, a local weekday morning news program.  Our executive producer booked a number of long live call-in segments with a woman who claimed to be a pet psychic.  Yes.  An 8-minute live segment with viewers calling in to ask how their dead pets were doing in the afterlife.  8 minutes.  I argued with the same producer when I wanted more time to interview actor/writer John Leguizamo.  He was coming in live to talk about his upcoming stage show.  I was booked to have 90 seconds live in-studio with him.  I argued that it was unfair to give a pet psychic 8 minutes but I could only have a minute and a half with a gifted, acclaimed and accomplished Puerto Rican film/stage actor and writer -- in New York City.  I got more time to interview John.  But not as much as the pet psychic got for her segments.

When I had my first professional fulltime job, it was that Milwaukee FM radio job.  It was a rock radio station and I was a news reporter.  I was also the only black on-air employee at the whole FM rock music radio station.  I watched the Oscars with an on-air co-worker the night the later Peter Finch won the Oscar for Best Actor.  He died of a heart attack a couple of months before the Oscars telecast in 1977.

My co-worker's jaw practically dropped down to the carpet when screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky called Peter Finch's widow to the stage.  My co-worker sputtered "She's...she's!"  He was at a loss for words because....well...see for yourself:
My white co-worker was shocked.  I was proud and joyful.  I loved that moment and her gracious speech.

NETWORK.  It's still relevant.  As I've said before...when Paddy Chayefsky gave us that screenplay, he wasn't just a writer.  He was also a prophet.




Year-End Notes on TCM Diversity

Sunday morning I watched Ed Muller, the excellent host/writer of the Noir Alley weekend show on TCM, present the 1950 film, THE BREAKING POI...