Tuesday, November 16, 2010

"How I Met Your Mother": "Glitter"

Fans of "How I Met Your Mother" know that Ted Mosby (played by Columbus native Josh Radnor) is from Cleveland. That's thanks to series co-creator Carter Bays, who is a Shaker Heights native. But the Nov. 15 episode amped up the Cleveland content, as you can especially see at the 17:07 mark of the online version of the episode here. Ted's old Cleveland friend Punchy (Chris Romanski) comes to visit and, while watching TV, asks, "Do you guys get 'Big Chuck and Lil' John' out here?" Of course, a truly attentive Clevelander would know that Chuck and John's show ended production in 2007. Not that Punchy seems all that attentive. Read more!

Friday, November 12, 2010

"RED": Look Out, Cleveland

"RED" is a nice, entertaining action comedy -- I mean, how can you go wrong with a movie with Helen Mirren as a cheerful assassin? And then you add Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, Brian Cox, Ernest Borgnine, Richard Dreyfuss . . . and the delightful Mary-Louise Parker. Liked it. But that's not why we're here.

We're here because Frank, the retired agent played by Willis, lives in Cleveland. A grubby part of Cleveland. Nice closeup of a garbage can. And I like to think that it underscores the matter-of-factness of NE Ohio folks when Frank's house is shot to rubble and no one appears to make a fuss.

Although those early scenes are set in Cleveland, the movie was reportedly shot in and around Toronto and New Orleans. Read more!

"CSI: Crime Scene Investigation"

On the Nov. 11 episode, a water well explodes. Nick tries to recall a time when a river in Ohio caught fire. Ray notes that it was the Cuyahoga, by Cleveland, and that he had a cousin there; the cousin said the water oozed -- and the burning river helped lead to the Clean Water Act. Which is somewhat true. (The fire also helped inspire Earth Day.)

And all that brings back memories of this:

Read more!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

"The Gathering"

It's not actually set in Northeast Ohio, but the 1977 TV-movie was shot here. And, during its long absence from DVD, I would hear every year from people wanting to find it. Thankfully, it and the sequel are now available. (The picture here shows the DVD box.) But its acclaim is not based solely on the local flavor. The movie won the Emmy for outstanding special, and received several other nominations.
After the jump, I have included a story Betty Lin-Fisher wrote at the movie's 20th anniversary. I hope to add some more about the making of the movie later.
From the Akron Beacon Journal, Dec. 19, 1997:
Twenty years ago, the then-village of Hudson made its debut in a made-for-TV movie starring Ed Asner and Maureen Stapleton.
Parts of the town and specifically Pierce House, the home of Western Reserve Academy's headmaster, were used in ABC's The Gathering, a heartwarming Christmas movie. Nearby Chagrin Falls was also used for some of the outdoor scenes.
The movie ran on the network stations for many years and has also been featured on cable stations. Several Hudson residents were also included in the film.
The Gathering is the story of a 58-year-old New England industrial engineer, Adam Thornton (played by Asner), who learns that he has a terminal illness. Thornton asks his estranged wife (Stapleton) to unite his scattered family for a final Christmas together at the family's house (Pierce House). Asner was starring at the time in The Mary Tyler Moore Show.
Other actors who starred in the film included Bruce Davison, Gregory Harrison, Stephanie Zimbalist, John Randolph and Veronica Hamel. The movie's director, Randal Kleiser, went on to direct the hit movie Grease the next year.
"It was a very pleasant experience for all of Hudson," said resident Priscilla Graham, who had a speaking part as the wife of Thornton's doctor. "I think people in Hudson were really pleased to have Hudson represented."
Other residents cast in speaking parts included the late John Hubbard as a minister, the late Cynthia Longstreth as the wife of a lawyer and Joe McCarthy as one of the Thornton son's bosses.
Many Western Reserve Academy students and Hudson residents also served as extras and carolers in the movie.
The town was abuzz when the Hollywood actors and crew were filming for nearly a month in February 1977, residents recall. Then-Western Reserve Academy Headmaster Hunter Temple and his family moved out of their house during filming, said Tom Vince, the academy's archivist/historian. Movie crews were looking for a New England-style house large enough to fit a film crew, actors and equipment, Vince said. Pierce House, built as a retirement home for the second president of Western Reserve College, was perfect.
The storefront that is now occupied by Zona Spray Cooking School on North Main Street was converted into a butcher shop where Stapleton's character goes to buy the Christmas goose. In the reflection of the window, the Hudson clock tower can be seen. Private homes in town were also used in the movie.
"It was a big time. Those were the days when Hudson was much more of a 'community' community than it is now. Most of us knew each other and their families and that kind of thing," said Melicent Hubbard, wife of John Hubbard, who died in 1993.
John Hubbard had been active in community theater, but his role as the minister in The Gathering started a new career, his wife said. He went back to school for more training, was in two movies after The Gathering, did a lot of advertising work and was the director of two area playhouses, she said.
Graham said she happened to land a part in the movie because she was in the right place at the right time. She also helped out the movie crews, finding furniture and props from residents needed for the set.
As for her one line in the movie where she offers Stapleton some help in the kitchen, Graham laughs: "Big deal. I had one line. My kids have never let me forget it."
Graham, who preferred not to give her age, said she spent a lot of time on the set of the movie and is in many scenes where she may not be noticeable.
The actors were very pleasant and friendly, Graham said. "They weren't a bit standoffish."
McCarthy played the New York City boss of a Thornton son. The son threatens to ruin the family gathering because he is expected at the boss's party instead.
McCarthy's scene, which was filmed in a downtown Cleveland building, wasn't in the movie originally, he said. It was filmed after most of the actors had left Ohio and the director decided he wanted it added.
"It's a very simple scene," said McCarthy, 78. "It's one of those things where I say, 'Don't go to the refrigerator for a beer or you'll miss me.' "
McCarthy said he thinks the movie, which is full of charm, will "be showing for years to come."
Read more!

Friday, July 23, 2010

"My Father's Shadow: The Sam Sheppard Story"

The 1998 TV movie was one of a number of efforts dealing with the trials of Bay Village's Dr. Sam Sheppard, this one with Peter Strauss as Sheppard. (George Peppard also played Sheppard, in the 1975 TV-movie "Guilty or Innocent: The Sam Sheppard Murder Case.") After the jump, my talk with Strauss about his movie.
Peter Strauss knows that his new TV movie will be watched more closely in Ohio than in other parts of the country.
"I have no doubt that it will be the nature of people in Ohio, and especially in Cleveland, to take the film apart on whether it is factual or nonfactual," Strauss said in a recent telephone interview.
Strauss is stepping into a 44-year-old, still unresolved controversy when he plays Dr. Sam Sheppard in the movie My Father's Shadow: The Sam Sheppard Story, which premieres at 9 p.m. Tuesday on CBS.
Based on the book Mockery of Justice by Cynthia L. Cooper and Dr. Sam's son, Sam Reese Sheppard (who is also a creative consultant on the film), the movie follows the relationship between father and son after the brutal 1954 murder of Marilyn Sheppard, Dr. Sam's wife and Sam Reese's mother.
Dr. Sam was accused of the murder in the press and court. Convicted of the crime, the Bay Village osteopath spent a decade in jail before the conviction was thrown out on appeal.
Dr. Sam was retried and acquitted, but many people continued to believe him guilty. Drinking hard and living badly, he died in 1970 at the age of 46.
But Sam Reese has spent recent years trying to prove his father's innocence, with increasing amounts of evidence pointing to Richard Eberling, a convicted killer who died in July, as the real murderer of Marilyn Sheppard. That same evidence also indicates that authorities ignored or suppressed information that could have exonerated Dr. Sam.
Not that everyone is convinced. And the movie will make easy prey for anyone expecting a precise recitation of the facts.
Sheppard case followers will note the differences in appearance between Sam Reese and the actor who plays him, Henry Czerny; the elimination of major events, such as Dr. Sam's second trial; the absence of key players like attorney F. Lee Bailey, who helped free Dr. Sam; and the strange device of having Sam Reese talking to the ghost of his dead father.
Strauss, a veteran actor and Emmy winner for his performance in the classic movie The Jericho Mile, acknowledged the differences.
He wished the movie had been longer than two hours (with commercials) so more of the story could be told. He speculated that Bailey in particular was omitted because there may have been difficulties getting the rights to portray him. He noted that the story is told from Sam Reese's point of view, which differs from that of others close to the case. Strauss thought some changes were defensible in dramatic terms. And he argued that the network's legal department "went through the script with tooth and comb."
But he ultimately claimed, as moviemakers often do, that "this is not being presented as a documentary."
Besides, for Strauss it was a good part and an intriguing story that still goes on. Indeed, Eberling died while the movie was in production in Toronto, and "there was a lot of rushing around by the producers and writers ... trying to decide how to handle that." (It's mentioned in a note at the movie's end.)
"I didn't know the story really well, except for faint whiffs of The Fugitive," said Strauss, referring to the TV series and movie inspired by the Sheppard case. But as he looked at the script and began, as is his habit, to research the role, Strauss found "a lot of levels. ....
"First of all, there's a fascinating story about the American judicial system. What the hell happened here? And then there's the intriguing story of a father and son."
Intriguing, and disheartening.
Losing a mother to a violent crime is bad enough. The writer James Ellroy, another son of a murdered mother, became so obsessed with crime as a teen-ager that, he later wrote, "dead women owned me."
For Sam Reese, the loss of his mother was compounded by the accusations against his father -- and having to renew his acquaintance with a father who'd spent Sam Reese's adolescence in prison. And just as Sam Reese saw his charismatic, arrogant father turned into a pathetic, abusive wreck, so Dr. Sam came out of prison expecting to deal with a 7-year-old son who was now near the end of his teens.
Czerny as Sam Reese gets more screen time, but Strauss as Dr. Sam had what he calls "eight little vignettes" to show the shadow cast over the family. He imagined what it was like for a successful, powerful man like Dr. Sam to be stripped of everything he valued in life. "There had to be an extraordinary sense of rage," he said. "An impotent rage. And that's a powerful kind of emotion."
It also satisfied Strauss' desire not to play Dr. Sam as just a victim. Still, just as the debate over the Sheppard case drags on, so do the attempts to understand Dr. Sam himself. And Strauss' research offered no final answer.
"I find him to be one of the most enigmatic people I've ever portrayed," Strauss said.
Read more!

When "Drew Carey" Turned 100

"The Drew Carey Show" was a solid hit for ABC for much of its run, and Drew made sure that it paid appropriate homage to the folks back home. Local folks made several appearances as extras, including in the 100th episode in 1999. If you look very carefully, you might even see my elbow in a scene. After the jump, four columns I wrote about that episode.

Here is one I wrote in advance of the taping; from the Beacon Journal, April 11, 1999:
When I got an invitation to be on The Drew Carey Show a couple of weeks ago, one question came to mind.
How much weight could I lose in two weeks?
Now, appearance might not seem important on a show that stars an occasionally portly guy, especially when it's set in a city that celebrates corned-beef sandwiches, pierogies and the aptly named Big Dawg.
But the show is a very big deal, especially in Northeast Ohio. It's not only a showcase for Carey's hometown -- he says the glossy opening shots of the city "might as well be called 'Come to Cleveland' " -- but it's a way of showing off its people.
Other series have drawn somewhat on the flavor of their locations: Tip O'Neill showed up on Boston-set Cheers, former New York Met Keith Hernandez on Seinfeld, Baltimore-based filmmaker John Waters in Homicide: Life on the Street.
But Carey has made a habit of the practice, most notably in the January 1997 "Drewstock" episode.
Cleveland Mayor Michael White was in that one. Browns legend Bernie Kosar appeared as a conquering hero; searching for a bathroom, he was told to go anywhere "unless you want to take a Modell." Musician Joe Walsh not only played "Drewstock," he returned to the series in a recurring role.
Those are the dream jobs, with actual lines. Even more people, from actor Martin Mull to Walsh's manager David Spero to radio personalities Brian Fowler and Joe Cronauer, have appeared as "background extras" -- people sitting in bars, standing in crowds, providing texture behind the real actors.
There will be more of the same in the series' 100th episode, which will be taped in Hollywood on Wednesday for telecast later this season. Fowler and Cronauer will be back. WEWS (Channel 5) news anchor Ted Henry -- who has been seen on the show as a newscaster, but taped those segments in Cleveland -- will actually get on camera on the set. Ron "The Ghoul" Sweed will be among the other celebrities. And so, complete with unshed poundage, will I.
Can't say what I'll play yet. I've been asked to bring two kinds of clothes, ones suitable for an office, like the one Carey works in at the Winfred Louder department store, and casual attire for hanging out in the Warsaw Tavern.
It doesn't matter, either. "We cannot guarantee that in the final editing you will appear on camera," the show warned in its invitational letter. So all I want is enough air time to be recognized back home. Let me at least be in the foreground of the background.
Even that has its drawbacks. Fowler and Cronauer, now on WVMX (106.5-FM), remember vividly their big moment on the 1997 "Drewstock" episode as they sat at a table in the Warsaw Tavern.
First, there were the drinks -- fake beer and shots consisting of apple juice, which had to be downed in take after take. And there were the long hours with the extras told to be on the set from 11 a.m. to midnight.
Ted Henry, who has visited the set before to interview Carey, is already anticipating "enough takes that we'll be bored silly."
But the long day proved a bonus to the radio duo.
"We talked to Bernie Kosar for two or three hours," Cronauer said. "We talked to Mimi. We talked to Ryan Stiles."
And, of course, there was the bonus of exposure on the air. Then at WMMS (100.7-FM), they wore the station's colors on the show. Asked if they were going to do likewise for their new station, Fowler joked, "If we don't, we're going to have to pay for the trip ourselves."
Being on the Carey show has paid off for other people, too. Regular viewers might not notice that Cleveland San Jose Ballet dancers are afoot in the show's opening credits. But Alan Hills, operations director for the ballet, said other ballet companies have taken note.
"Word gets out," he said. And Raymond Rodriguez, one of the company's dancers, is already out West rehearsing for an appearance in the 100th episode.
On top of all that, veterans of past Carey appearances say there's the simple pleasure of hanging around a happy Hollywood set.
"It was long days and great food . . . and really a lot of fun," said Walsh manager Spero, who could have been spotted as a bar patron earlier this season.
He admitted his situation was cushier than some.
"I had my own trailer," he joked. "All right, it wasn't mine. It was Joe Walsh's."
But having spent some time around other studios, both in Cleveland and on national shows, Spero sensed that the Carey show was an especially happy place to work.
"It starts with Drew," he said. "Drew makes it fun for everyone else. Even the extras aren't treated as extras."
Others agreed.
"He didn't walk around like a star," Cronauer said. "It's a good time, it really is."
"We were sitting up where the audience sits and Drew caught a glimpse of us," Fowler added. "And he came over and said, 'Is this great or what?' "

This is what I wrote about the events around the making of the 100th; from the Beacon Journal on April 16, 1999:
At close to 12:30 a.m. yesterday, with a last burst of applause from spectators and participants alike, the bone-tired cast and crew of The Drew Carey Show wrapped up the last episode of its fourth season.
It had been a landmark day because the episode, airing May 26, was also the series' 100th. Top executives from ABC, which airs Carey's Cleveland-set comedy, and Warner Bros., which produces the show, had been on hand to sing the show's praises.
During a midafternoon break on Stage 17 of the Warner lot, a cake bearing Carey's caricatured likeness was cut, with news camera crews on hand to record the moment. There were gifts for Carey, too; he proudly showed off a brown, embossed binder from his agents that held almost every Cleveland Browns trading card since 1958.
All that underscored how important Carey has become. Both he and series co-creator Bruce Helford talked about running another four years.
At the same time, though, Carey worried that somehow all the success will slip away, that "NBC's going to put World's Sexiest Commercials on and take away our audience."
"Every year is like a battle," he said. "Every sweeps is like a battle. . . . There's no such thing as just resting on your laurels . . . The first time you do that is when you start to fail. I never, ever feel comfortable."
So he gets into seemingly every detail of his sitcom, from writing to whether the set has enough equipment. He keeps wanting to dazzle the audience, including with a 100th-episode musical number, Brotherhood of Man, from Broadway's How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. This summer, he will take the title role in the TV musical Geppetto. He has a deal to host 22 more episodes of the improvisational comedy series Whose Line Is It Anyway? although "I have the easiest job on Whose Line. I show up, I read the cards. . . . There's no stress to do that."
And, he said, "Right now we're planning to do a special (sitcom) episode concerning the Browns coming back to Cleveland. We're going to film (in Cleveland) in August, right before the first game in the new stadium. . . . But we're just getting our stuff together now. I don't know where we're going to stay. I'm sure all the hotels are gone. We'll probably have to stay in trailers or something."
Told that someone would make room for him, Carey looked pained. "Yeah," he said, "but I don't want to bump anybody out."
While Carey enjoys many of the perks of stardom, he clings to a regular-guy, Northeast Ohio sensibility that affects how the show is done.
Working days can run more than 12 hours. Activity may stop, as it did Wednesday, so a scene can be rewritten -- and then re-rewritten. But even people who are low in the line of authority, such as the extras, tell tale after tale of Carey picking up tabs, helping people out, making his show a decent place to work.
"Drew's one of the nicest people I've ever met," said Bob Collier, a former Clevelander who's been an extra on Carey's show for two seasons. Another extra, Akron model Giana Lamonica, said working on the show has been "great. They've given me a lot of help."
For the 100th episode, the show invited people from Northeast Ohio to appear as background extras. Among them: news anchor Ted Henry; radio personalities John Lanigan, Brian Fowler, Joe Cronauer and Larry Morrow; actor John Henton; TV personalities Ron "The Ghoul" Sweed and Marty "Superhost" Sullivan; Carey's older brothers Neal and Roger; Brecksville attorney Robert L. Tuma and his son, and fellow attorney, Brian, and several print reporters, including me.
Henton, one of the stars of the ABC sitcom The Hughleys, exulted at being among people he'd seen on TV as a kid.
"I'm sitting between Superhost and The Ghoul," Henton declared early in the day. "I'm getting my camera."
"What self-respecting Clevelander wouldn't want to do this?" said Henton, who even brought his "Browns 99" jersey to wear in one scene. "I saw who was coming and said, yeah, I'm there . . . "All of us Clevelanders, we stick together," he said. "I went to the premiere of Eddie Murphy's movie, Life, and there was myself, Steve Harvey, Arsenio Hall, Halle Berry, Kym Whitley -- everybody that came out of Cleveland."
Not that everyone wants to be closely connected to the Carey show. Roger Carey, an engineer for a software company, recalled Drew calling him one day to ask if it was OK to call a character playing the TV Drew's brother Roger.
"Better not," said Roger, who shies away a bit from his brother's spotlight. It proved a good thing, since Drew had not mentioned that the TV brother, finally named Steve, was also a transvestite.
Still, Stage 17 holds countless little reminders of Northeast Ohio, some not even evident to viewers at home.
While Carey's TV house wasn't set up on Wednesday, the Warsaw Tavern was, and it was covered with Ohio memorabilia: sports team pennants, a Cleveland business license behind the bar, frames holding Ohio postcard sets (one an aerial view of Akron), a bottle of "Cleveland Style Tomato Ketchup," a 1979 Cleveland calendar, a 1994 Cleveland telephone book and a metal plaque commemorating "Wrt. Iron Bridge Co. Builders Canton O. 1895."
There's more of the same in Carey's office, with its Cleveland datebook, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame paperweight, "Cleveland Rocks" candy, Max & Erma's mug serving as a pencil-holder, a "Save Our Browns!" advertisement on a partition, even the Cleveland parade permit for the fictional Winfred-Louder department store's Thanksgiving Parade.
But this is also Hollywood, what you see sometimes illusory. The business cards covering the walls of the Warsaw are almost all for California enterprises, such as the Hollywood Studio Gallery, an "optician to the stars" and the show's set decorator, Ed McDonald.

Also from April 16, a closer look at being part of the show:
The making of TV shows is a job. People work hard at it. And after one long day on the set of The Drew Carey Show, I was more than ready to let other people do the work.
The day started at about 11 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time on Wednesday when I and other Northeast Ohioans gathered to play background extras on the season finale of the Cleveland-set sitcom. We were going to be patrons of the Warsaw Tavern in two scenes.
We'd already gotten wardrobe pointers. "Spring attire: casual," said a memo from the show. Bring "3 outfits -- our wardrobe department will review them and pick two. . . . clothing may be casual, but please avoid bright colors or big logos."
Logos are a touchy issue for TV shows because they may need legal clearance to show them on the air -- not to mention pay a rights fee for using them. Some did get used, others were obscured by other garments, and an Akron Beacon Journal shirt I had was turned down.
But dress-up time was hours away. First, we did a run-through of our scenes. Although none of the extras from Ohio had lines, we got scripts of the scenes so we could react to other business in the bar. We even had a group line, a shouted "Yaaay" when Oswald (played by Diedrich Bader) offered to buy drinks for all his friends.
The regular actors in the show -- "the A team" as they were called, their Warsaw table "the hero table" -- had the really heavy lifting, juggling lines and bits of stage business. Professional extras were used for almost all the scenes involving walking across the stage. Some of the Ohio extras were recruited for a conga line and to pick up coins from the Warsaw floor.
All I had to do was sit, at the bar in one scene, at a table near the back in the other. It was hard.
For one thing, when you're sitting at a bar with cameras behind you, all sorts of horrible questions run through your mind. Is my shirt wrinkled? How can I sit up straight on this softly padded stool? Will the world conclude that I should star on World's Biggest Backsides? At one point I shifted my wallet from my back pocket to the side -- and at that, the side away from the camera -- in the hope that it would slim me down a little.
Also hard is "miming." Background extras don't actually speak, not even in a whisper, since that would distract from the recording of the actors' dialogue. So you mime talking to other people, adding in nods, grins and handshakes along the way.
A scene that lasts just a few minutes can seem interminable when you sit, pretend to talk to someone who is also pretending and try your mightiest not to look at the actors. You invent little bits of business with the other extras, pretending to discuss something or joke, although you really have no idea what the other is saying. (The slightest whisper can bring a rebuke from the crew.)
After awhile, I didn't really hear the actors talking. I just wanted the scene to be over. Except, of course, actors fluff lines, the director wants to try other business or a scene has to be rewritten. Again and again, you mime and nod.
Then, that night, before a very patient studio audience sitting through hours of takes and retakes, we had to do it still more times for telecast.
Between the scenes, or when scenes not including us were shot on other sets, we sat. Sometimes people chatted and joked. Behind the sets was an ample buffet of hot and cold food, pastry, raw vegetables; you could find soda, bottled water, cappuccino and other drinks. (Regular extras say Carey's show offers an especially good spread.) Later, during the dinner break, a second buffet was set up outside, and pizza appeared still later as production dragged on.
And dragged is the word. Carey at one point said optimistically we might be done before 11 p.m. We weren't, after all, shooting the whole episode; the climactic musical number had been shot two nights earlier. But the second scene in the Warsaw proved a problem. As midnight loomed and the regular extras talked about overtime, sleep seemed a lot more appealing than a few minutes on national TV.
Besides, they cut the "Yaaay."

And this is my "review" of the episode, from May 26, 1999:
You've got the Miss Universe pageant, a broadcast of the Arnold Schwarzenegger movie True Lies, a two-hour season finale of Law & Order, including a farewell bow by Benjamin Bratt, and a season finale for Star Trek: Voyager.
But you know what you want. You marked it on your calendar weeks ago.
It's the season finale of The Drew Carey Show.
Not because of the big number set to the song Brotherhood of Man from the musical How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, although it's a pretty good bit.
Not because it's the exciting season finale for the series.
And not for special guest star Hal Linden.
No, you want to watch the show -- at 9 tonight on ABC -- because I'm in it. After all, I bent your ear endlessly last month with tales of me and other Northeast Ohio people hanging around the set, getting my wardrobe chosen, grazing at the sumptuous food table and talking to real live celebrities. Or at least Ted Henry.
So you must be curious about how my performance -- on view at 9 tonight on ABC -- turned out.
Let me save you some time: I am great.
I am one of the best background extras I have ever watched in a television show.
Granted, I only began watching background extras a couple of weeks ago, after working as one. They're the people you see milling around an office, or sitting in a bar, while the actors with actual lines go about their business. You don't usually pay attention to the background extras, because your attention is focused on the people speaking.
Which -- as you can see at 9 tonight on ABC -- I do not. I got to mime speaking, but the best mimes are never heard. Neither am I.
Still, in the two scenes where I appear, both in the Warsaw Tavern, I look really good. Or at least my shirt does.
In the first scene you never see my head, let alone my face. But that shirt: off-white, Oxford cloth, button-down. It may be the best shirt I've ever seen in the background on a TV show. Take away that shirt, and the whole dynamic of the scene changes.
In the other scene, you can see me miming and everything. After you're done taping the episode -- and you are taping it, aren't you? -- rewind to the scene and wait for the crowd to part long enough to see a dark-haired guy with a mustache, in a purple shirt, sitting at a round table and miming as if his life depended on it.
Not for long, though. I hope you have a good pause control on your VCR. And you may want to watch it on a big-screen TV since I'm not always easy to see in the, well, background.
Still, I can honestly say this is one of the best Drew Carey episodes I have ever seen, and not just because I am in it. It would be unprofessional to get excited about a few seconds of visibility on a national television program. I am sure that, even if I wasn't in this episode, I would have recommended it to my family, friends, co-workers and everyone in my e-mail address book.
It's that good. Including the guy with the mustache, in the purple shirt, sitting at a table and miming as if his life depended on it.

Read more!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

"Homefront": A Lost Gem

"Homefront" (1991-93) was in the fictional town of River Run, near Cleveland, and based in part on Mentor, Ohio, hometown of series co-creator Bernard Lechowick. Set following World War II, it was a sprawling story of families dealing with post-war America. The impressive cast included Kyle Chandler, Wendy Phillips, Ken Jenkins, Dick Anthony Williams, Hattie Winston and John Slattery (who would later find more success in another period piece, "Mad Men"). After the jump, I have posted an interview I did with Lechowick and co-creator Lynn Marie Latham (also Lechowick's wife) in 2000, when TV Land began carrying repeats of the show.

Seven years after its demise, Homefront's creators still don't have a clear reason why the series was canceled.
Viewers can puzzle as well starting at 6 a.m. tomorrow with a 48-hour Homefront marathon on TV Land. Reruns of the drama will also air at noon weekdays beginning Monday.
Originally airing on ABC from 1991 to 1993 and little seen since, the weekly drama about families in the fictional Northeast Ohio town of River Run just after World War II gained respectful reviews, awards and a passionate fan following that extended far beyond this area.
It was ethnically diverse (one of the three central families was African-American). It was rich in local period detail courtesy of an on-staff researcher and the cast members' own digging. Even radio broadcasts were true to the era, and the actresses had to cope with '40s undergarments.
Personal recollections by former Mentor resident Bernard Lechowick and other midwesterners on the production staff also fueled the show.
Lynn Marie Latham, Lechowick's wife and the series' co-creator, had the original idea for the series based on the war brides she'd known in her native Texas. But it quickly became a show set near Cleveland.
The show looked like a hit at first. Audience testing of the series' pilot "went through the roof," recalled Lechowick.
While the series changed time slots five different times during its run, "the shows they put in (the same slot) after us never did as well as we did," added Latham.
"When they put us in a Thursday night slot against Cheers, they asked us to improve on the female demographic they'd had there before. We went in and doubled it," she said.
Homefront combined soapy romantic plots with stories about racism, religion, the labor movement and other issues. It managed to avoid controversy by being a period piece, Lechowick said.
"People are less threatened if it's not immediate," said Lechowick, now working on a series for MTV about the children of a '70s rock band's members traveling along on the band's reunion tour.
"With a religious discussion, if it was written with the characters in the present day, people would be up in arms," he said. "Many times we'd be at home watching the show, and I'd say, 'Lynn, can you believe we got away with this?' "
And the show's ensemble cast included actors who've gone on to more successful series, among them Dharma & Greg's Mimi Kennedy, Early Edition's Kyle Chandler and Becker's Hattie Winston. So the question still nags: Why didn't the show last longer?
Latham wondered if it was a function of bad timing, that Homefront would have had a better chance a few years later as movies like Saving Private Ryan sparked new interest in World War II America. But she also likes to think that maybe Homefront helped generate some interest, too.
Lechowick, meanwhile, offered all sorts of possible explanations.
ABC might have been more committed to the show if it had owned a piece of it. "Other shows that had lower ratings stayed on" because of network ownership, he said.
Ross Perot's 1992 presidential campaign wounded Homefront, Lechowick said, because Perot would buy air time in different cities and those buys would pre-empt Homefront. Other networks also targeted Homefront with heavy competition, Lechowick said.
"Executives at CBS and NBC rejoiced when we were canceled," he said. Former CBS executive Jeff Sagansky "told me 'We knew how good you were, and we couldn't let you get a foothold,' " Lechowick said.
It may also have been something as simple as the show never getting the ratings that audience research said were possible. "We were victims of high expectations," Lechowick said.
But for all that, both Lechowick and Latham prefer to think how fortunate they were to do the show in the first place.
"I'm just so grateful that ABC and (former executive) Ted Harbert let us do a project that I had wanted to since I was a teen-ager," said Latham, who's both writing for Lechowick's new series and working on a series pilot for actress Kelly McGillis. "There are so many things that you don't get to do."
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