Archive for PBS

Jane Austen, Action Hero???

Move over Chuck Norris, there’s a new bad ass in town and her name is Jane Austen.

Yeah, you heard me right. J.A., the English author of such all time hits as “Pride and Prejudice,” “Sense and Sensibility” and “Emma,” who died in 1818.

She’s now an action figure. And she’s ready to be your travel buddy.

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With quill in hand, she’s ready to wield it like a sword against those who doubt her power.

During a stirring PBS session here at the TV critics press tour, we learned that “Masterpiece Theater” will be doing “The Complete Jane Austen” beginning in January.

At the tables, the centerpieces included the Jane Austen action figure. We learned there were many Web sites devoted to J.A., incuding “Jane Austen is my Homegirl.”

Then there’s Kristen’s Web site that shows you all the places J.A. has been. Check it out: Kristen & J.A..

Fan of Jane’s? Let’s hear it.

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Sex talk starts press tour

It didn’t take long for sex to become the main topic on the first full day of the Television Critics press tour in Beverly Hills.

And we haven’t even gotten to HBO’s explicit “Tell Me That You Love Me.”

PBS rolled out its featured programs today, with a post-lunch session on “What Females Want and Males Will Do.” After duck behavioral ecologist Patricia Brennan described her fascination with the rather large sexual organ of the male duck, which led her to research the inner workings of the female duck, the film’s producer Kevin Bachar sighed and commented that he felt as if he was “doing a duck porno.”

U.C. Davis professor Gail Patricelli says her work as a biologist experimenting with bird sexual selection has led her colleagues to dub her a “pornorthologist.”

Well, that’s the way to start out 18 days on press tour.

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Some bloated Bob Dylan

PBS says Bob Dylan songs are the most bootlegged tunes in history, which is why security was so tight around the screening of the Martin Scorsese documentary “No Direction Home: Bob Dylan.” And why these people love titles with colons is beyond me. Critics can’t watch it for review unless they buy the DVD, which goes on
sale a week before the film airs on PBS.

So after a day of back-to-back
sessions, critics boarded the shuttles to go to the Fox studios to watch the three-and-a-half hour film. It’s magical walking around the sound stages once inhabited by the likes of Elizabeth Taylor and Marilyn Monroe – even the hedges have the drama/comedy masks cut into them.

Sitting through a bloated film? Not so magical. Scorsese spends way too much time inflating the concert footage of Dylan playing in Newcastle, England, where people piled into a theater only to heckle Dylan for leaving his protest-song roots. After your seat has lost all feeling, as fellow critic Ellen Gray says, you want to yell “We get it. Electric instruments bad, acoustical good.”

No one would argue that Public Enemy co-founder Chuck D. is a serious guy. But what makes him such a fan of PBS? After a session on the PBS documentary, “Get Up, Stand Up: The Story of Pop and Protest,”Chuck D. expressed surprise that people might find it difficult to believe that he’s a PBS groupie.

“My mind is not geared toward the frivolous,” he says in a massive understatement. “I have to watch it, it’s the only thing on TV you can watch without losing your mind.” Which explains why TV critics seem like they’ve slipped a few brain gears.

To hear what Chuck D. thought about a recent awards show on BET, in which Beyonce did a lap dance on Magic Johnson with her dad in the audience, click here. Audio - MP3

To hear Sean “Puffy” Combs talking about changing his priorities in life, clickhere. Audio - MP3

Bob Newhart does deadpan like no other. So you can’t quite get the real feeling for his exquisite comic timing unless you hear him say it. In one, Newhart is praising the unique comic timing of Hollywood great Jack Benny,Audio - MP3 while in the other he sounds rather astonished at Oscar-winner George C. Scott’s Audio - MP3“Patton” assessment of his comic skills.

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Rapper Chuck D to the rescue

BEVERLY HILLS _ Public Enemy turns out to be public TV’s friend.
Rapper Chuck D, formerly of the hard core rap group Public Enemy, popped up at press tour this week for a PBS panel on the September documentary “Get Up, Stand up: The Story of Pop and Protest.”

Part of the two-hour film chronicles the history of politics and protest in black music, from the civil rights movement and pacifism to black separatism, gangsta rap and the L.A. riots.
In the film, Chuck D says “when we heard `Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud’ by James Brown, we turned from colored to black and black was beautiful.”

And he didn’t mince words with critics gathered here for the annual summer tour about his dedication to public broadcasting.

“PBS is my favorite network. I don’t think Viacom (CBS, MTV, VH-1, etc.) is my favorite network. MTV you spell MTV E-M-P-T-Y-V. And they turned BET into the bootie and thug network,” the outspoken artist told critics. “BET is such a bad mark on black folks in this country.
“PBS and Viacom are diametrically opposed, and we need to figure out more ways to get the documentaries and public broadcasts into the schools and into society.”

Chuck D says he knows that cable and broadcast networks draw in many more people than PBS, with their sensational news to exploitative series programming.
He says that TV outlets other than PBS have no interest in the good work he and others have been doing.

“But let it be known that I walked out of a gas station with a Reese’s bar and said I wasn’t paying for it, then my news would be splashed all over,” he says. “So we know that the worst of us gets around like gas. Of course you’re going to pick up an audience, but the question is, what audience? Do you measure the quality of an audience or the quantity of an audience?”

Chuck D says he’d rather be part of a quality program on PBS than a show like “Survivor” that garners millions of viewers.

“To me, that’s Pavlovic, people come in front of the TV slobbering; PBS, to me, it fights some of that off,” Chuck D says. “We need balance in television programming. So I’m the balance to (former Public Enemy bandmate) Flavor Flav’s ‘Surreal Life.’ ”

Bob Newart to get “Desperate”

Comic legend Bob Newhart came in to promote “American Masters: Bob Newhart: Unbuttoned,” which airs Wednesday July 20 on PBS (9 p.m. on KQED-Channel 9).

A late bloomer, Newhart was a 30-year-old accountant still living at home with his parents when he exploded on the comedy scene. He starred in two self-titled sitcom staples and appeared in 16 movies. Most recently, Newhart co-starred with Will Ferrell in “Elf” and guest-starred on “Desperate Housewives” as the boyfriend of Susan’s mom.
Keeping him grounded is Virginia, his wife of 42 years and mother of their four children.

“My wife will say, ‘Oh, the garbage guys are coming by tomorrow, so you want to take this out and put it in the recyclables,’ ” Newhart says. “I’ll say to her, ‘Well, do you think Joanne Woodward asks Paul Newman to take out the recyclables?’ and she said, ‘If you were Paul Newman, I wouldn’t ask you to take them out.’ ”

Newhart says he likes to hang out with comics, because they are always good for a laugh.

“I was out with Tim Conway the other night and we were having dinner. I don’t know, the subject of Viagra came up,” Newhart deadpans. “Tim said, ‘You know, they say if you get an erection for more than four hours you should call a doctor. If I get an erection longer than four hours, I’m calling everybody I know.’ “

Although he says he’s not interested in doing a series again, Newhart is looking forward to more appearances on “Desperate Housewives” next season.

“I don’t know if I’ll be doing two or eight. It’s whenever they feel like writing me in,” he says, adding that it was a compliment to be asked to do the multi-Emmy-nominated series. “I think if they’d gone to Schwarzenegger, he would have given up the governorship and accepted a recurring role.”

Check back on the blog to hear more from Newhart and Chuck D, as well as an early assessment of Martin Scorcese’s new 3 1/2-hour documentary on Bob Dylan. PBS claims that the chance of bootlegging this baby is so high, they won’t be able to ship it out in time for critics to review it before it airs in September.

The ambitious piece uses previously unreleased footage from Dylan’s live concerts. And for those out there unfamiliar with the man, he’s the cadaverous guy singing in the Victoria’s Secret ad and father of twentysomething couple-of-hits wonder Jakob Dylan. Oh yes, and a hugely important folk-rock pioneer.
PBS bids a fond adieu to the critics, making way for cable networks to present their wares.

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PBS is positively boring

Ah, the lazy, hazy days of summer.

And in L.A., the haze isn’t just a line from a song.

Welcome to the kick-off of the annual summer TV critics press tour being held this year at the Beverly Hills Hilton. Well, kick-off is a bit more active than the subject matter would suggest.

PBS was the first up in an almost three-week long parade of TV people here to pitch their shows, and Day 1 that proved to be an acronym for Pretty Boring Stuff, with the major exception being a panel of TV primetime old-timers.

That’s not the way it was supposed to be. This promised to be an exciting interaction between the press and the PBS higher-ups. The appearance of PBS president and CEO Pat Mitchell came on the heels of a half-year of controversy, from pulling an episode of the children’s show “Postcards from Buster” that featured a lesbian couple to the Corporation for Public Broadcast chair Ken Tomlinson spending public funds to investigate PBS.

This is more than you probably want to know, but CPB gets the federal money, or about 15 percent of the total PBS budget, and dispenses it. CPB, in the words of Mitchell, “was set up to be a heat shield between that money and any content that was produced for PBS or for local stations.”

CPB funds and commissions programs but cannot produce programs.

Tomlinson hired Republican lobbyists to determine PBS’ fairness and balance. So how much of a heat shield is that?

“We did not call for (Tomlinson’s) resignation. Some people have,” Mitchell said. “I think this Inspector General’s reports about the surveys and the use of taxpayer dollars are obviously big issues. But it will be up to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting’s board to make that decision about whether he’s asked to step down or not.”

While the government bucks are nice, PBS still relies on tin cup-manship to fund most of its programs. With Exxon-Mobile backing out of funding “Masterpiece Theatre,” you’ll see fewer programs.

“It’s about resources, it’s not about desire,” Mitchell said of the cutback. “It’s funded for two seasons. It’s worrisome (that we haven’t yet found a sponsor).”

Today, members of the Senate will vote on restoring the $400 million in federal funds to the CPB. Some senators have stated that they will approve it if PBS restores some balance in terms of bias and political perspective. In short, they want a more conservative viewpoint on PBS, which traditionally leans more to the left.

Mitchell took a convoluted route to explain that PBS does offer balance in its programming.

As for the episode of “Postcards,” Mitchell said the decision was already made to allow local stations to decide when, or if, they would air the program before a nasty letter was sent by the Department of Education.

“We made the right decision given that we are a membership organization accountable to those stations,” Mitchell said.

So what was the real highlight of the day?

Spending a couple of hours with some TV legends.

Sid Caesar, Red Buttons, Rose Marie, Carl Reiner and Mickey Rooney took the stage to discuss the PBS program “Pioneers of Primetime.”

Caesar looked the most frail among the stars, but he could still spit out the zingers. He said that the remote control is the biggest single technology to change our society.

“If you wanted to change the station, you got up and you had to walk across the room. And while you were there, several people said, `Could you make it a little brighter? Could you turn it down? No, there’s too much red. Stomp your feet. That’s it! The color is coming, keep stomping, Caesar said.

“The remote control took over the timing of the world, that’s why you have road rage, you have people who have no patience because (the remote gave you) immediate gratification.”

Emmy and Oscar winner Buttons was the star of the panel _ and the oldest at 86. He played the room with one snappy line after another. He talked about how his writers, including Neil Simon, left “The Red Buttons Show” to work on Caesar’s brilliant “Your Show of Shows,” which is now available on DVD.

Finally, he said, to the laughs of the audience, even he wanted to leave his show to work with Caesar.

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