Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Birthday Letdown

I turn 41 this week and so far, the anticipation has been anticlimactic. It’s not that I dread getting more lines on my face and more gray in my hair. To the contrary; my life has gotten better every year since graduating college. I am in the best shape of my life, more successful than I could imagine, and live in a terrific town. And while I’ve achieved a lot at this point in my life, I look forward to accomplishing much more.

When I was 30, I wrote some goals down for myself. Still a young man, I found that by fixating what I wanted to accomplish on paper, my goals became more real, giving me a sense of urgency. Some goals were simplistic but important to me, others were close to unattainable but I figured that if I didn’t at least try, why bother having goals in the first place. I wanted to be more successful in radio, although I didn’t know talk radio in my future and my true passion. I also wanted to lead a healthier life, since I had gained 30 pounds. Other goals, like traveling to Europe and touring the great museums, have not come to fruition, but I am working on them.

Turning 40 was a scary, wonderfully rewarding experience. People made a big deal, sending cards and calling me to share their birthday wishes and good will. Since the big 4-0 is the midpoint of an average man’s lifespan, you can really gauge how you’ve done in your career and personal life, what goals have been accomplished, and what lies ahead.

So far, my 41st birthday feels like catching leprosy. People acknowledge it, but they would rather leave me on the island and just move on to something else, like looking at baby pictures or winning American Idol.

Turning 41 is like a vast, lost, wasteland for birthdays. It’s like turning 26 or 72. I’ve never heard someone say, “You know, when I turned 41, my whole life changed!” Or, “When I was 41? Now that was a great year!” No one asks, “So what’s it like turning 41?” Why? Because it doesn’t feel like anything. It’s just another day in the week of October, as the days get cooler and shorter, and the football season finds itself in mid-season.

I wish I had more to look forward to as I turn 41, but my goals have been laid out for over a decade. Some I have accomplished (like not killing Gaydos; that is still a hard one to keep) and others are still down the path for me. But for now turning 41 feels as important as being on time for work. You know when to expect it and that it’s coming, but what’s there to be excited about?

So if you want to wish me a happy birthday, I have an idea. Save it. Wish me a happy birthday when I turn 42. Maybe that’s the birthday I should be looking forward to. After all, I have a whole year to think about it.

Monday, September 28, 2009

SNL Bomb

A bomb was dropped on the season premiere of Saturday Night Live this past weekend and I am not talking about guest host Meghan Fox’s performance.

During a sketch between two “biker chicks,” newbie cast member Jenny Slate dropped the F word with veteran Kristen Wiig. Censors on the East Coast missed the fleeting F word when it flew, but did bleep it for the West Coast feed. I don’t know if new cast member Slate wanted to make a controversial impression and decided to boldly go where not many cast members have gone before in a performance, but I am always shocked and a little disheartened when people overreact to using a word that has been in the English vernacular since the Middle Ages.

The blogosphere is rife with opinions, some bloggers using the same word Slate dropped on NBC Saturday night, which I find highly ironic. Viewers want NBC and Saturday Night Live to take a strong stand and punish Jenny Slate. Some even say she should be fired for dropping the F word, writing in their screeds that she should be professional enough to know when and how to use coarse language on free television.

I have always had a problem with the perception of the use of curse words. Not because I agree with our collective Puritanical roots. On the contrary – I love curse words; all forms, all functions. Now if you’re one of those sanctimonious, high-horse people who feel that cursing has no place in polite society, this opinion piece is not for you, and I hope you don’t break your neck when you fall off that horse.

No word in the English language can be used so many different ways and for so many situations. You can use the F word as a noun, verb, adjective, adverb, even a gerund! It is one of the most widely used words in social circles, yet we deny its monumental impact in broadcasting.

As a society, we are nowhere near eradicating a word that was used as an insult when the Normans invaded the Anglo Saxons in 1066. In fact, the reason we use the same curse words today goes back to the Anglo pride of keeping the most debased, guttural insult(proudly saved), and defiantly hurled back on their Norman conquers. (And notice who had the last laugh in the First and Second World Wars – take that, France, and your polite, sissified language!)

I think in certain situations and circumstances they are not only funny, but useful and in some instances, cathartic. There is nothing like letter a few F words fly when you’re upset, angry or frustrated. A recent study even suggests that cursing is good for a person's mental state because there is not only a verbal but physical release when someone vents their frustration in a curse-ladened tirade.

I am not endorsing using the F word during children’s programming or during a church picnic. Did Jenny Slate gratuitously use the F word repeatedly during an episode of Hannah Montana, turning it into a Tarentino script? No. Does SNL always like to push the envelope? Yes, since it’s inception in 1975. So I don’t have a problem with the F word at 10:30 at night. Because I know the dirty little secret that many people use that word during the morning, noon and night as well.

As the bumper sticker says, sometimes S*@# Happens.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Don't Call It a Comeback

The American people secretly enjoy two things, especially in politics: Power and Scandal.

John Edwards’ political career has all the trappings and context of a Shakespearean tragedy with a healthy dose of TMZ.

So when word came out this week that John Edwards is staging a comeback to the political landscape, I scoffed. This isn’t a comeback; it’s a reintroduction.

Think of it as John Edwards 2.0.

John Edwards’ rise was too good to be true: a small town trial lawyer, who came from nothing, married his college sweetheart and celebrated every anniversary at a fast food restaurant. This small town trial lawyer went into politics and had a meteoric rise that eventually saw him tapped by John Kerry as his Vice Presidential nominee in 2004.

But his fall has been just as fast as allegations that he fathered a child out of wedlock as his wife was dying of cancer splashed across news crawls and headlines in 2008.

But just this week, John Edwards has engaged in a new low in his political career; there are rumblings of a comeback. But wait. Even if Edwards is going to do more of a mea culpa than he did on ABC’s Nightline the first time when he admitted, “in 2006 … I made a very serious mistake. A mistake that I am responsible for and one else,” crying crocodile tears on camera, he still has to face the grand jury.

A federal grand jury in North Carolina is investigating whether or not Edwards or his staff used campaign contributions to pay his mistress hush money or paid her a salary. The New York Times reported that people familiar with the grand jury investigation as trying to untangle the legal morass of “whether payments to a candidate’s mistress to ensure her silence (thus maintaining a candidate’s viability) should be considered campaign donation and thus whether they should be reported.” Two of Edward’s main backers provided the mistress with large sums of money, including a new BMW and a house that was used to keep her out of public view.

That’s not a good thing for any politician – even a Kennedy wouldn’t be able to survive this kind of infidelity mess. Or could they?

Today, not many pesky problems, perverted peccadilloes, or salacious scandals survive in America’s Collective Conscience.

In recent months, Senator David Vitter R-LA, is seeking re-election after a prostitution scandal. Senator John Ensign, R-NV is still in office after having an affair with a staffer’s wife. And who can forget Mark Sanford, the married governor of South Carolina, whose lusty emails and covert trip to Argentina to see his Buenos Aires baby doll didn’t get him kicked out of office.

John Edwards wants to come back. He wants to, again, be in the spotlight and be in politics even though he has fallen out of favor in his own state of North Carolina.

But we have seen other elected political heroes survive scandals and maintain their political toehold in Congress. Why should John Edwards be any different?

Americans’ memories are short. John Edwards cheated on his dying wife, fathered a child out of wedlock and, allegedly, misappropriated campaign funds to keep his mistress hidden and his run for president viable.

John Edwards will be back – maybe not representing the good people in North Carolina – but he’ll find constituents that will fall for his narcissistic charm and forgive him enough to get him re-elected.

But don't call it a comeback.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Jay Leno's New Show Is An Old Shoe

I was expecting more last night. A lot more.

Jay Leno’s new show on NBC debuted last night to a lot of hype, a lot of expectations and a lot of hand wringing about the future of late night talk shows as well as the fate of primetime shows. All of this based on a man who people thought wouldn’t last a year into his stint as the replacement for Johnny Carson. Those doubts have been erased and now Jay Leno is an iconic television fixture.

But last night I was expecting something more, something different than just a Late Night Redo.

I was shocked when I tuned in that everything was basically the same. Same monologue, same interviews, same bits. The only thing that was different was the set. And by the way, did anyone catch how reminiscent Jay’s new set looks like the set from Later with Bob Costas when he was on late night?

Jay deserves the mammoth, expansive and creative set that Conan now enjoys. It looks like Leno got an Ikea afterthought. Just horrible.

The actual show was too comfortable. I didn’t expect jitters or flop sweat like Conan and Jimmy Fallon had when they debuted, but there should have been some kind of nervous excitement – something to be giddy about whether it’s the new time slot or even if it’s to show off the new set they built Jay. Oh, that’s right…no one could get mildly or feign glee over the new set.

As far as the guest for Jay’s inaugural foray into primetime, Oprah was forced and felt out of place, Jerry Seinfeld was great as always, and Kanye West really proved what an absolute douche bag he is with his lame, inarticulate apology to Taylor Swift and the debacle that was the VMA’s. I understand why Jay decided to bring him to the comfy chair, sitting down and talking a bit, but if there is one skill Jay sorely lacks, it’s how to handle a tough interview. When the giggles and fluff are flying, he’s fine. But when there needs to be some gravity to his interview, Jay turns chicken. And asking about how your late mother would feel about your behavior is just stilted and unnecessary. I would expect that out of Oprah, not Jay Leno.

Jay Leno is a talented guy, but he’s also reached a comfortable place in his career and in his new time slot. Maybe too comfortable.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Obama Overexposure

What do Jon and Kate, Speidi, Nickelback and Ann Coulter have in common? They suffer from a cultural phenomenon that is akin to having an itchy skin rash.

It’s called being overexposed and no one in the public spotlight wants to suffer from its debilitating effects.

Come this Sunday, the president may need some Calamine lotion.

Since President Obama’s Health Care Plan has not been greeted with accolades but with resistance, (which quickly turned into downright skepticism) Barack has been on the offensive. He spoke in front of both Houses of Congress last week to push for Health Care Reform, even invoking Teddy Kennedy's name to punctuate the immediacy and urgency of his plan.

But the president’s eloquent speech has not translated into a huge bump in the polls. Almost half of the American public is not sold on Health Care Reform. So what is Obama to do? The White House announced yesterday that Obama would take his message to the American people…again…by going on television.

Be ready to start applying the cortisone cream.

This Sunday, unless you’re watching HGTV or ESPN, it will be hard to miss the president. He will appear on This Week with George Stephanopoulos on ABC, Meet the Press on NBC, as well as Face the Nation on CBS. In between the major networks, he will do interviews with CNN and Univision.

That’s a lot of TV. That’s a lot of exposure. Too much, in my opinion. Barack’s message is getting lost in his own limelight. What this administration has to learn is how to handle the magnitude and his rock star quality that got him to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. So far, they’ve overexposed a man that should not have to go on every major network to get his message across.

Most presidents since the television era began have had all the presence and stiffness of a cardboard cut out – or worse. Comedians, late night talk shows and regular people mock them because they are utterly inept at connecting with the public. Not this president. Not since JFK have we seen someone who electrifies the podium.

But like chocolate or fantasy football, too much is not a good thing.

For the record, President Obama has done 114 interviews in his first seven months in office compared to 37 interviews by former president George W. Bush and 41 by Bill Clinton. I was no math major, but Obama has been on almost four times than Dubya.

Barack Obama is a Hollywood casting agent’s dream for a calm, assured presence on camera. (As long as there is a teleprompter.) But the main rule of Hollywood success, and to a lesser degree, political success, is not to be overexposed. People tire of you then turn a deaf ear to your message

Sunday, Barack will reach that level and the America public will be itching for a new message.

Ellen Judges AI

Pardon the drool, as I have spent all weekend trying to pick my jaw off the floor.

Now I am a pretty jaded person and nothing really makes my jaw get so slack that my lower mandible finds itself, teeth and all, in a jumble on the tile.

But last week, the announcement that Ellen DeGeneres would replace Paula Abdul on American Idol stunned me more than the news that Michael Jackson’s death was ruled a homicide.

The conventional wisdom behind Ellen joining the Island of Misfit Judges is simple. Ellen is huge with women (no lesbian joke intended). Her daytime talk show has had steady female numbers and Idol producers have noticed a lack of female eyeballs watching would be singers turn into starts for the past couple of seasons.

Also, Ellen is likable and funny without being too saccharine or insipid like Paula. As a side note, I have to admit, one of the reasons I enjoyed AI the last couple of seasons was because you never knew what kind of verbal train wreck would chug forth from Paula’s pert little mouth. Her slurry, confusing non-sequitors were something that drinking games were borne out of. “Take a shot if Paula says anything with the word ‘beautiful!’”

Sure, she was a lighthearted distraction, like a funny Aunt at a reunion that makes you shake you’re head and thank God she doesn’t live with you. That was, for good or bad, Paula Abdul and I, for one, will miss her drug-addled ramblings.

But the main reason that I cannot believe Ellen DeGeneres was picked to be the new judge on AI is that she (and this is tantamount) has no musical background whatsoever.

None. Zip. Nada.

Sure, Ellen can dance as she’s proven on her successful talk show when she moves her hips like some stuffy tart at a Junior League function, but does she know what pitch is? Can she pick out a warbler versus an actual singer?

Simon and Randy have actually produced world-class singers who have smash hits and gold records. Ellen? We don’t even know if she sings in the shower.

Ellen has that Everyperson quality to her that AI producers are looking for. She says she loves music, but without the one-hit wonder factor or the rehab stints. DeGeneres reminds you of a someone who goes to your church, but without the fashion sense.

Her likeability may have been the “it” factor for Ellen, being huge for test audiences, but remember this cautionary tale. A couple of years back – forever in TV time – Monday Night Football was looking to shake things up in the booth and found someone who they thought would reflect the Everyperson, sitting between the football guy and the announcer guy. He was smart, quick and was a self-avowed “football fanatic.” His name was Dennis Miller. And he sucked so bad, he was replaced after two seasons…by a man who knew a lot about football. His name was John Madden.

Ellen, you ain’t John Madden; you’re Dennis Miller. And that’s not a compliment.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Too Little, Too Late


Speaking to both Houses of Congress, and to the nation, President Obama finally gave details of how his Healthcare Reform Bill would help millions of uninsured Americans.

Too bad it’s too little, too late.

Last night his speech (by my notes) had eight separate parts. But what political heroes, cable and radio talk show hosts, and many Americans have been clamoring for are details in how the president’s magnanimous plan will directly affect the American health care system and medically and monetarily impact citizens.

Last night some details emerged.

The president said that if you already have health insurance, are covered by Medicare/Medicaid, your status will not change. For the rest of Americans who don’t fall into those categories, he outlined a comprehensive, detailed plan that sounded good, but really failed to live up to the “game changer” he needed to push those opposed to the plan into supporting it.

Under Barack’s proposed plan, the government would:

• Offer an affordable plan for those who don’t have medical insurance.
• Create a new insurance exchange where companies will be competitive.
• Provide tax credits based on your needs.

The president also took on those who were putting forth lies, untruths and misrepresentations of his plan. Calling Death Panels a “lie, plain and simple,” the president also said that the plan would not cover illegal immigrants. Then Barack Obama took a swipe at those who dared question his plan by saying that anyone who misrepresents what’s in his plan, he and the administration will “call you out.”

These are bold, confrontational words (almost a thinly-veiled threat; maybe he’s channeling the “Chicago Way”) from the president. But they are also understandable because the president was on the defensive after letting his own plan and bill get mired and tarnished by his own inaction. When he proposed the plan needed to be ratified and voted on in three weeks last July, people scoffed, questioned and jeered his timeline. Moderate Democrats even started to raise objections saying that that kind of sweeping comprehensive reform was too much, too soon, too fast. But the president believed the American people truly wanted this and since he needed a solid victory before Congress went on vacation, he did something utterly baffling: he went on vacation, thinking it would be passed because he wanted it. Big mistake.

And that’s when he lost control of the narrative on health care, even with the death of Ted Kennedy and the rallying cry from people like Nancy Pelosi that we needed to pass health care reform because of Kennedy’s commitment to reform. The debate shifted and was changed by those who were strongly opposed to government-controlled health care.

The proof is in the latest poll numbers where over 52 percent of Americans are now against President Obama’s plan, while his overall approval numbers continue to plummet below 50 percent.

So last night was a good speech – a solid, passionate performance from a man whose oratory ability cannot be questioned.

But the timing was too late. He should have made this speech a month ago.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

What Obama Needs To Say

Tonight, President Barack Obama will address both houses of Congress, trying to garner support from those elected political heroes, but also from the American people.

(We will carry the speech live at 5pm on Mac & Gaydos on News Talk 92.3 KTAR and then have live reaction.)

With his poll numbers precipitously falling below the important 50 percent approval rating, the president needs to say three things for the Congress as well as the people to rally behind his bold, almost radical, plan to offer health care to everyone through the government.

1. Barack Obama needs to tone down the rhetoric about the have’s versus the have not’s. We all understand that there are people who do not have health care. But we also need to remember that this isn’t the 19th century and people are not dying in the streets because of pestilence, lack of caring or crisis. Don’t scare us into your plan, Mr. President.
2. The president needs to give more details and less oratory. Don’t finger point. Let’s not get caught up in politics as usual casting shame and pointing an accusing finger at people (who have every right) who are skeptical and want more details on what your “public option” truly contains. The president is a wonderful, inspirational speaker. But when someone tries to radically shift the way we get and receive health care, which is a truly personal decision, the public needs more information.
3. And, finally, Mr. President, please shift your focus from the government or “public” option to making our health care conversation about the patient first. Let’s make sure the insurance companies can stay in business, but let’s stop treating people on the defensive. Let’s have doctors treat people, not live with the fear of being sued. It’s a simple, almost elementary cliché: When you put people first, people respond.

So let’s hope President Obama has seen the error of his ways. By trying to shove something down the American people’s throats, his poll numbers have plummeted. By including the American people in the debate about national health care, Barack may not get exactly what his agenda set out earlier this year, but he won’t suffer from Americans losing confidence in the man who is all about Hope and Change.