Listen to me on KTRS/St. Louis every Friday, 3-6pm CT

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Showbiz Show Year In Review


This week on the showbiz segment of my show, Colin Jeffrey and I revealed our lists of the Best and Worst movies of 2016 -- and there isn't much overlap, so you'll get a lot of ideas of titles to add to your streaming or DVD rental queues (and which ones to avoid).

Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Harris Challenge -- Year In Review

Did you pay attention this week? This year? Prove it by taking my Harris Challenge Year In Review trivia quiz -- the most fun you can have with your radio on! The categories includes You Knew Their Names This Year, Carrie Fisher Movies, and Not A Good Year. Listen and play along, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Harris Challenges? Click here.

Knuckleheads In The News 12/30/16


On this edition of Knuckleheads In The News®, I have stories of a shoplifting football player, a man with gold in his butt, and a drunk semi-naked woman. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Knuckleheads In The News®Click here.

Friday, December 30, 2016

10 Quick Puzzles

Several emailers have asked for a copy of the 10 quick puzzles from Professor Richard Wiseman that I read on the air this afternoon. Here's the link -- and here's the caveat: they're all trick questions!

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Best Thing I've Read Today

Adam Kilgore has a piece on Houston Rockets forward Chinanu Onuaku, the only player in the modern NBA to shoot free throws in the style of Rick Barry -- that is, underhand. Barry, who I saw play in the ABA in the 1970s as one of the New York Nets, led the NBA in free throw percentages for several years, averaging 90% accuracy, and even had one season in which he drained 95% of those shots. If that doesn't convince you how good Barry was, try this story:

[Stan] Van Gundy, the Pistons coach, worked as a counselor at one of Barry’s basketball camps in the late 1970s. One day, Barry challenged anyone present to a contest, and Van Gundy volunteered.

“What the hell, you know?” Van Gundy recalled Tuesday. “I was a good free throw shooter, even though I obviously wasn’t Rick Barry. So I go out there so we’re both 9 for 9. I make my 10th one, I’m shooting first, and he says, ‘Okay. Here’s what I’ll do. I’m going to shoot this next one blindfolded and with double the arc, and it’s got to go through nothing but net.’ If it doesn’t, I win, because he didn’t want to keep it going. So I think, This is great. So they blindfold him, and he shoots the ball, and it seems like it goes up to like where the ceiling was, and straight through. Straight through. And I was like, ‘All right....If you can do that, I ain’t going to win, anyway.’”
Read Kilgore's full piece here.

Sneaky Pete


In August, 2015, I raved about an Amazon pilot called "Sneaky Pete," developed by Bryan Cranston and "House" creator David Shore:
"Sneaky Pete" stars Giovanni Ribisi as Marius, a con man about to get out of jail who owes a lot of money to a mob figure -- cash he doesn't have. When his cellmate Pete shares stories about rich grandparents he hasn't seen in 20 years, Marius decides that, once released from prison, he'll pretend he's Pete and scam his way into their money. Things don't go exactly the way he plans them, though, and the complications make for a very interesting plotline, thanks to Margo Martindale and Peter Gereghty as the grandparents and a slew of unknowns as the rest of the extended family.

I'm always a sucker for a good con man story, particularly one that has the feel of "Breaking Bad" and "Better Call Saul" mixed with a touch of a short-lived series I enjoyed called "Terriers." I enjoyed it enough to tell Amazon I want to see more episodes.
Fortunately, a lot of other people liked it, too, so Amazon ordered a full season, which will finally be available on January 13th. David Shore's no longer with the show, but "Justified" showrunner Graham Yost is onboard, and since I liked that series so much, I'm looking forward to seeing what he'll do with "Sneaky Pete."

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Tweet Of The Day

From Wil Wheaton:

At 11:59pm on December 31, we'll all get a text alert from an unknown source that just says "THE ARISTOCRATS!" and 2016 will make sense.

Movie Review: Why Him?


Sometimes, I like to see a movie that I know is going to be moronic. That's why I've gone to check out things like "Bad Santa," "Hot Tub Time Machine," and now "Why Him?"

James Franco is a Silicon Valley gaming billionaire with no filter (usually with no shirt) and Bryan Cranston is the uptight father of a Stanford college student (Zoey Deutch) who’s in love with him. Cranston and his wife (Megan Mullally) go to visit them in California only to be shocked by everything Franco says, does, and has.

As I hoped it would be, "Why Him?" is relentlessly stupid and incredibly raunchy (the only movie this year that beats it in that category is "Sausage Party"). Unfortunately, Deutch -- who’s supposed to be at the center of all this chaos -- is given virtually nothing to do, but Mullally picks up the slack as the wife who loosens up as things proceed. "Why Him?" works because of Franco and Cranston, who gets to be goofy for first time since Malcolm In The Middle while at the same time playing the straight man with the slow burn.

There are cameos by Elon Musk and a couple of rock stars you’ll recognize. Keegan-Michael Key is funny as always playing Franco's butler/righthand man. Kaley Cuoco's along as well, as the voice of Justine, the Siri-like artificial intelligence that’s in every room of the house. Cedric The Entertainer has a few supporting scenes as an employee of Cranston’s stationery company that’s facing financial problems in an era when fewer people are using paper.

I'm giving "Why Him?" a 6 out of 10, but with two warnings -- don't set your expectations too high (come for the stupid, stay for the moose urine) and if you're easily offended by four-letter words, stay away.

Credit Not Due

I just read an AdWeek story headlined,"Jane Pauley Continues to Give CBS Sunday Morning a Lift," which attributes credit to the venerable news show's ratings rise to Pauley taking over from the retired Charles Osgood. I don't buy it. No one tunes into that show to see the anchor -- whoever he or she is -- introduce the various pieces that make up that show. It's the stories themselves that draw us in. All Pauley is doing is continuing the tradition (that started with Charles Kuralt) of having someone comfortable present them to us. I'm not saying she's not good at the job, just that she doesn't deserve credit for the show's ongoing success.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

That's Not Thursday

This weekend, I watched two games on NFL Network that were both labelled "Thursday Night Football Special Edition," even though they aired on Saturday and Sunday.

Since when is "Thursday Night Football" a brand so strong its actual meaning can be stretched to include any day of the week? Even "Monday Night Football," which has been on the air for 46 years, can't pull that off. Probably the only day-specific broadcast that can is "Saturday Night Live," when it airs its highlight-reel holiday specials. But "Thursday Night Football" on the weekend? Nope.


Movie Review: Jackie


"Jackie" is the story of Jacqueline Kennedy on the day of the assassination of her husband, President John F. Kennedy, and the ten days that follow. It is framed by her conversation with Life magazine reporter Theodore White (Billy Crudup), in which she's determined to manage the image and legacy of JFK and their family --  including the comparison of their life together to the Lerner and Loewe musical "Camelot."

Natalie Portman is perfect as Jackie. I didn’t know Jackie had such a quiet, breathy voice (almost like Marilyn Monroe, ironically), but Portman has it down -- particularly in flashback scenes such as the televised White House tour she did on Valentine's Day, 1962. Viewed by more than 80 million people across three networks, it was the first time most Americans saw the interior of that building, not to mention the First Lady as tour guide.

"Jackie" does a very good job showing what it’s like to have your life ripped out from under you -- not just the abruptness of having a loved one killed, but also being forced out of your home at the same time. The movie shows her dealing with the trauma, her children, the funeral, the public face, and the Johnsons, who were trying to both move in and help the country move on, without stepping on her toes too much.

Director Pablo Larrain combines archival footage with reenactments by a supporting cast that includes Greta Gerwig as Jackie’s right-hand woman Nancy Tuckerman, John Hurt as the priest Jackie turns to for moral support, Caspar Phillipson as the latest JFK doppelganger, and Peter Sarsgaard as Bobby Kennedy (whose accent he gets wrong and can't sustain).

I don't know who the audience for "Jackie" is. Anyone under 60 isn't old enough to remember any of this and won't care about the history lesson. In fact, the only reason I recommend it at all is for Portman's performance, which will probably earn an Oscar nomination.

I give "Jackie" a 6.5 out of 10.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Movie Review: Lion


When I was a little kid, I was walking along the boardwalk at Oceanside, New York, with my parents and other family members we were visiting on July 4th weekend. Up ahead, I spotted a ferris wheel and some other rides. It looked exciting, so I told my folks I'd meet them there, and before they could say anything, I dashed ahead to check out the fun.

After walking around and soaking up the carnival atmosphere for a little while, I went to look for my parents to ask them to buy me a ticket for the ferris wheel -- but I couldn't find them. It wasn't a particularly large area, and I knew they must have gotten there by then, yet they were nowhere to be seen. It was nighttime and I started panicking and crying, worried I'd never see them again. At one point, a police officer spotted me and calmed me down long enough to take me to the police station a couple of blocks away. I don't remember what happened next or how long it took, but I held it together until my parents eventually wound up there and retrieved me. Then the waterworks really started.

That incident came back to me while watching "Lion," a wonderful movie about a lost boy.

His name is Saroo, a five-year-old who lives in a very poor part of India with his mother and his older brother, Guddu. One day, Guddu tells him he's going away to work on a farm for a few weeks, but Saroo convinces him to take him along. Guddu agrees and the two of them get on a train. When they arrive at their destination, Saroo is too tired to do anything but lie down on a bench in the train station, so Guddu tells him to stay there while he goes off to find out about the job.

When Saroo wakes up, he's alone in the train station. He calls Guddu's name but gets no answer, so he looks for his brother on a train that's stopped at the platform. There's no one onboard, so Saroo, exhausted by the search, lays down and falls back asleep. When he wakes up, the train is moving and he can't get out of the otherwise-empty car. By the time it stops, he's a thousand miles away from home, a little boy lost in the overcrowded city of Calcutta, where the natives speak Bengali -- but Saroo only knows Hindi. What follows are heartbreaking scenes of a small boy lost on the streets of a city he doesn't know with people who don't speak his language, with no place to sleep and no food to eat.

That's just the setup to the story, but I'm not going to tell you any more because, if you're going to see "Lion," you're better off not knowing where the plot goes from there. All I'll say is that, later, you'll see Dev Patel as the older Saroo (who eventually wrote the book that "Lion" is based on), Nicole Kidman as the Australian mother who raises him, and Rooney Mara as his girlfriend.

Patel and Kidman are getting some awards attention for their performances, but the best work in the movie is done by Sunny Pawar, who plays 5-year-old Saroo. It's the best screen performance I've seen by a little kid since "The Jungle Book" earlier this year.

While my lost-boy experience pales in comparison to Saroo's, "Lion" brought back a flood of memories that made me connect with him -- thanks to the work of rookie director Garth Davis and screenwriter Luke Davies -- and the shots of the real people during the end credits made me well up again.

I give "Lion" an 8 out of 10.

Eat Like A Pig Week

It's December 26th, and you know what that means. Only five more days to stuff your face before you pretend you're on a diet as your New Year's resolution.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Mike Massimino, "Spaceman"


In the 1960s, as a small boy growing up on Long Island, I was obsessed with the early space programs, from Mercury to Gemini to Apollo. In late July, 1969, a few days before I turned eleven, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans to walk on the moon. After watching it on TV, I went to bed looking out the window at the moon, amazed that there were people up there, and dreamt of becoming an astronaut. At the same time, a 6-year-old boy somewhere else on Long Island was doing the same thing and was similarly awed. The difference is that, unlike me, that boy grew up to actually become an astronaut.

Mike Massimino is a veteran of two space shuttle missions, was the first person to tweet from space, and has a recurring role on The Big Bang Theory, where he nicknamed Howard Wolowitz “Froot Loops.” Now he’s written about his life in a book called “Spaceman: An Astronaut’s Unlikely Journey To Unlock The Secrets Of The Universe.”

On my show, Mike talked about:
  • How scared he was on the day of his first launch;
  • Whether anything you do in training can prepare you for the view out the window;
  • How he kept all the little screws from flying away while fixing the Hubble Space Telescope;
  • The experience of taking a spacewalk;
  • Getting used to being weightless;
  • How he could possibly fall asleep his first night in space;
  • What the late John Glenn meant to him.
Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Showbiz Show 12/23/16


This week on the showbiz segment of my show, Colin Jeffrey and I reviewed seven new movies -- "Lion," "Jackie," "Why Him?," "Elle," "Sing," "Fences," and "Passengers." Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Harris Challenge 12/23/16

On this edition of my Harris Challenge -- the most fun you can have with your radio on! -- the trivia categories include Christmas At The Movies, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Class of 2017, and Have You Been Paying Attention? Listen and play along, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Harris Challenges? Click here.

Knuckleheads In The News® 12/23/16


On this edition of Knuckleheads In The News®, I have stories of a frozen woman in a car, a landlord who shook up his tenant, and a pinky-less car thief. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Knuckleheads In The News®Click here.

Friday, December 23, 2016

SNL Set Change

This is very cool behind-the-scenes footage from last weekend's "Saturday Night Live" where the stage crew had to tear down the set used in the cold open and get it ready for the host's entrance -- all in about two minutes while the opening credits rolled. You'll hear the countdown from the control room as they got it done just in time...

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Her Final Jeopardy

Cindy Stowell's 7-day $100k+ run on "Jeopardy!" came to an end yesterday, but she wasn't around to see it because she died on December 5th, before the shows she taped in November aired. After the credits, Alex Trebek told the audience for the first time that she'd succumbed to stage four cancer. Then the show posted this video of Cindy talking about her experience...

The Transparent Man Illusion

Professor Richard Wiseman emails:

For the past few months we have been working on a secret project involving the science of illusion and invisibility! In the 1920s a magician presented the plans for a strange illusion that he claimed would make people invisible. It's based on an idea used in modern-day invisibility research and so was years ahead of its time, but no one has ever built the illusion...until now! We have just made a 3 minute documentary about the illusion and put the idea to the test.

Read more about the making of this video here.

Phil Ivey Loses Again

In the ongoing saga of poker pro Phil Ivey vs. The Borgata over something called "edge-sorting" (which I wrote about two years ago) a judge has ruled that Ivey and his partner broke the contract between player and venue, and thus must return their winnings:

“The defendants not only shifted the odds to their favor, it is undisputed they won and won big,” Hillman wrote in his December opinion awarding Borgata the $10 million.

It wasn’t fraud, however, because they did not break the rules of baccarat, he determined. Those rules “do not prohibit a player from manipulating the cards.” Nor were they obligated, as the casino claimed, to explain why they wanted the dealer to behave in a certain way.

Instead, the judge ruled Ivey and a partner did break the rules of New Jersey’s Casino Control Act and thus “breached their contract with Borgata.” In December, the judge ordered the pair to return $10.1 million to Borgata, reflecting the baccarat cash as well as $500,000 won using some of the winnings at craps.

“By using cards they caused to be maneuvered in order to identify their value only to them,” the judge wrote, “Ivey and Sun adjusted the odds of Baccarat in their favor. This is in complete contravention of the fundamental purpose of legalized gambling as set forth by [New Jersey’s Casino Control Commission.] Ivey and Sun’s violation . . . constitutes a breach of their mutual obligation with Borgata to play by the rules” of the state’s law.
Read the full piece here. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Best Thing I've Read Today

Charlie Sykes, a conservative talk show host at WTMJ/Wisconsin, explains why he has quit after 23 years (his final show aired Monday), the horrible backlash he received for being against Donald Trump, and the moral failure of right-wing radio and TV...

One staple of every radio talk show was, of course, the bias of the mainstream media. This was, indeed, a target-rich environment. But as we learned this year, we had succeeded in persuading our audiences to ignore and discount any information from the mainstream media. Over time, we’d succeeded in delegitimizing the media altogether — all the normal guideposts were down, the referees discredited.

That left a void that we conservatives failed to fill. For years, we ignored the birthers, the racists, the truthers and other conspiracy theorists who indulged fantasies of Mr. Obama’s secret Muslim plot to subvert Christendom, or who peddled baseless tales of Mrs. Clinton’s murder victims. Rather than confront the purveyors of such disinformation, we changed the channel because, after all, they were our allies, whose quirks could be allowed or at least ignored.

We destroyed our own immunity to fake news, while empowering the worst and most reckless voices on the right.

This was not mere naïveté. It was also a moral failure, one that now lies at the heart of the conservative movement even in its moment of apparent electoral triumph. Now that the election is over, don’t expect any profiles in courage from the Republican Party pushing back against those trends; the gravitational pull of our binary politics is too strong.

I’m only glad I’m not going to be a part of it anymore.
Read Charlie Sykes' full piece here. He's now working on a book, "How The Right Lost Its Mind."

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Build Your Own Damn Stadium

I'm happy to see Governor-Elect Greitens agree with me that our tax dollars should not subsidize a new soccer stadium in St. Louis. He rightly calls it "welfare for millionaires" (yes, that's me finding common ground with the incoming Republican governor).

Mark Evanier's Mel Torme Story

Mark re-posts this story every year at this time. I read it every year. I smile every year. So will you.

My Holiday Turkey

This originally appeared on this site in 2011...


The first radio station I was paid to work for (after several years of volunteering at non-commercial college and high school stations) was WRCN/Riverhead. It was a classic small-town station on the east end of Long Island that played "album-oriented rock" to an audience that tripled in size as soon as Memorial Day rolled around and The Hamptons filled with an extra million beach-goers.

I started as a part-timer in April, 1978, doing the Saturday 7pm-midnight shift. Soon I was given the Sunday afternoon slot, too. A couple of months later, they started bringing me in during the week to help produce commercials. There was very little ad agency business, so we had to write, voice, and record almost every spot for local advertisers, and I provided an extra voice to supplement the other jocks, who all had production duties in addition to their six days a week on the air.

In a market that small, WRCN wasn't charging all that much for commercials. I think they may have gotten $20/spot during morning drive, the highest rated daypart, with some nighttime commercials going for "a buck a throw," or added on to a time buy as a bonus. There were also a very large number of spots that aired as a trade with the advertiser. If the radio station's owner needed new tires for his car, we ran free spots for the tire store. We did spots for the local gas station that filled up the tanks of our sales people. We ran freebies for John Duck Junior, a famous east-end restaurant where many of our clients were schmoozed over drinks and dinner (I begged the sales manager to let me take my parents there for their anniversary and finally tasted the duck, which was even better than I'd made it sound in their commercials).

So it shouldn't have come as a surprise when the station owner added a special something to our pay envelopes in the week before Christmas that year -- a gift certificate for a free 15-pound turkey from a local supermarket that had just started advertising with us (retail value: about ten bucks). This wasn't exactly the kind of gift a 20-year-old guy could get excited about. I was making about $3/hour, so some extra cash would have helped. Plus, I had never cooked a turkey at that point in my life, and since I lived by myself, it was unlikely I was going to start with that frozen bird. Besides, I was the low man on the staff totem pole and in addition to my weekend shows, since Christmas fell on a Monday that year, I was going to spend the holiday filling in on the air for a six-hour shift that took up the whole afternoon.

I went to the supermarket and explained my situation to the manager, asking if I could use the coupon for regular groceries instead of the bird, but after casting a wary eye on me -- what kind of crazy person doesn't want a complimentary Butterball? -- he denied my request, explaining that the coupon had no cash value. I tried to trade the coupon for something else from a couple of my fellow staff members, but none of them needed another free turkey, so I ended up giving it to Ernie, the incredibly patient mechanic who ran the auto repair place down the block from the radio station and was always working on my car (a 10-year-old Ford Galaxie 500 with over 125,000 miles on it and a penchant for spewing blue smoke).

In the end, it all worked out. Ernie and his family had a nice, free turkey dinner with all the trimmings, and I got a complimentary oil change -- which was something of a Hanukkah miracle, because those five quarts of 10W40 lasted for about eight nights in my car.

Would You Have Kept Your Cool?


Associated Press photographer Burhan Ozbilici was in the room yesterday when a Turkish policeman pulled out a gun and shot Russia's ambassador to Turkey. He captured the scene with his camera, despite the danger to himself...
I was, of course, fearful and knew of the danger if the gunman turned toward me. But I advanced a little and photographed the man as he hectored his desperate, captive audience. This is what I was thinking: "I'm here. Even if I get hit and injured, or killed, I'm a journalist. I have to do my work. I could run away without making any photos. ... But I wouldn't have a proper answer if people later ask me: 'Why didn't you take pictures?'"
Read Ozbilici's full piece here.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Movie Review: La La Land


There's a scene early in "La La Land" where Emma Stone's character, Mia, is auditioning for a role in some TV show or movie. In close-up, Mia moves through a myriad of emotions before someone interrupts and the casting director dismisses her. The scene only takes a minute, but it's a stunning performance by one of our best actresses.

That moment is merely one little example of how "La La Land" belongs to Stone. If she weren't already a star, this would make her one. Since she is, this will make her a superstar -- and probably an Oscar winner. She is radiant throughout the movie as the struggling Mia tries to make her way in Hollywood while simultaneously falling for Ryan Gosling as another struggling artist, a jazz pianist.

I've never been a Gosling fan -- in fact, the only movies I've enjoyed him in were "The Big Short" and "Crazy Stupid Love" (in which he appeared with Stone) -- but he's very good in "La La Land." He and Stone have real chemistry, and they move and sing well, too.

That's important, because "La La Land" is a musical, with a wonderful score by Justin Hurwitz and songs by Justin Paul and Benjamin Pasel (“City of Stars” and “Audition”) that will stay with you after you leave the theater (and will probably win an Oscar, too). The choreography by Mandy Moore is a throwback to the days of Ginger Rodgers and Fred Astaire with the style of Gene Kelly and Michael Kidd.

It's all put together beautifully by writer/director Damien Chazelle, who made a big splash in 2014 with "Whiplash." This time, in "La La Land," he and cinematographer Linus Sandgren have opted for long takes that show us the dancing in full frame with minimal edits. For the songs, he had Stone and Gosling sing live on set, not lip-syncing to a playback. Visually, the movie throbs with vibrant color and sensational backgrounds -- Chazelle makes full use of Los Angeles as the setting for his story -- from the opening sequence on a clogged freeway on-ramp to a dance duet at Griffith Observatory.

The supporting cast includes John Legend, JK Simmons, Rosemarie DeWitt, and Tom Everett Scott, but they are a distant second behind the leads, who do all their own singing, dancing, and piano handiwork (Gosling hadn't played until learning for this movie).

As for Stone, the camera absolutely loves her in "La La Land," and so did I. She gives the best performance in the best movie of the year, which I score a 9.5 out of 10 (deducting a half-point because it's about 20 minutes longer than necessary, but otherwise perfect).

Prediction: while I hope it will reach a large audience in movie theaters, regardless of how "La La Land" does at the box office and on the awards circuit, it seems ready-made for a Broadway adaptation -- and I won't be surprised to see it there within a couple of years.






Zsa Zsa and Dave

After hearing of the death of Zsa Zsa Gabor today at 99, all I could think of was her 1994 romp through Los Angeles eating fast food with David Letterman. In fact, it's the only thing I ever knew her for -- even before the Kardashians, Zsa Zsa was famous for nothing more than being famous. The bit is also a reminder of the nights when Letterman was creating truly classic television comedy, a trend that ended long before his show did.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

As I Tweeted

Dr. Henry Heimlich is dead at 96. I once offered him a pat on the back for his maneuver, but he refused, saying I was doing it all wrong.

This Revolution Will Not Be Televised


Three weeks ago, in recommending streaming TV series I've enjoyed, I mentioned that my wife and I really enjoyed the first season of an Amazon show called "Good Girls Revolt." Unfortunately, that's all we're going to get, as the company has already cancelled the series. Damn.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Craziest Poker Hand I've Ever Seen

Someone asked me recently about the craziest poker hand I've ever seen. I've witnessed quite a few, but this is the one that beats them all.

I was playing in the $5-10 no limit hold'em game at the Wynn in Las Vegas. The game had been going for several hours and most of the players had pretty deep stacks.

It didn't take long to realize that the guys sitting in the middle of the table were driving all the action. They were next to each other in the five and six seats, each had over $10,000 in chips, and seemed to have a score to settle, raising and re-raising each other. This was not collusion, which I discussed in a recent column. These two were not playing with each other -- they were each trying to crush the other guy. In response, the rest of us played fairly passively, because you didn't want to get caught in the middle of this vendetta unless you had a monster hand -- in which case you could win a huge pot.

With that as prelude, here's the hand as I remember it. Because I never knew their names, let's call them by their seat numbers.

Before the flop, Seat 5 raised to $50, as we'd seen him do dozens of times. With less than a moment's hesitation (a micro-moment?), Seat 6 re-raised to $200. Everyone else folded, but Seat 5 called. The flop came out Ace-Ace-Ace. Seat 5 checked, Seat 6 over-bet the pot $500, Seat 2 check-raised to $2,000, and Seat 6 quickly called.

See what I mean about craziness? Wait, it gets better.

Just as the rest of us were trying to guess which one of these guys held the fourth ace, we were startled to see that card come out on the turn. In all of my years playing poker, I had never seen the board fill up with four cards of the same rank in a row, let alone aces. Four out of five, yes, but never four out of four.

How did these two guys react? By betting even more. Seat 5 led out for $5,000 and Seat 6 (who seemingly acted without thinking) announced he was all-in. Since he had more chips than Seat 5, he was forcing his opponent into a decision for all of his chips -- somewhere north of $7,000 more. Seat 5 looked to his left at Seat 6, studied his face, and called!

Having verified that Seat 5 had called, the dealer put out the river card, a four, and we waited to see what the players had. By "we," I mean not just the rest of us at the table, but a dozen more onlookers from other tables who had gathered because they heard a huge hand was in progress.

With four aces on the board, whoever held a king would have the best hand (AAAAK), but neither of them did. They also didn't have a queen, or a jack.

Because Seat 6 had moved in, he was required to show his hand first, and sheepishly turned over a pair of deuces! Seat 5 laughed as he triumphantly turned over his cards -- a pair of threes!! Because the board read AAAA4, none of the hole cards mattered, and they split the pot.

Someone in the crowd shouted, "What the fuck??" That pretty much summed up everyone's reaction.

Then began the commentary, with people applauding both of them for their incredibly ballsy play, especially Seat 6's all-in shove with undercards to the board. I thought some of this was to encourage them to continue playing like maniacs, but it left me thinking about how stupid Seat 5's river call was. After all, with a pair of threes, he was going to lose that hand -- and his stack -- if his opponent held any card higher than a four!

The dealer split the pot. They each got their chips back, and split the remaining fifteen dollars from the blinds.

There was one lesson I took from that hand -- don't ever try to bluff either of these guys, because they will call you with literally nothing. I stayed a couple more hours, won a few pots here and there, left with a nice profit, and made a mental note to remember The Craziest Hand I've Ever Seen.

See more of my poker stories here.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Movie Review: Rogue One


I can't do a full review of any "Star Wars" movie because I feel about all of them the same way I feel about James Bond movies. They're fine for what they are, but they don't do anything special for me, regardless of the changing casts and story lines or the always-impressive special effects and stunt work.

So, I'm not going to explain the plot of "Rogue One" or delve into how it compares to the other "Star Wars" stories. Suffice it to say that, in the overall timeline of the rebels vs. the empire, this one comes just before the original movie (the one subtitled, "A New Hope").

That being said, I'll share a few random points:

It's nice to see my "Mississippi Grind" co-star, Ben Mendelsohn, getting a big career boost by playing the villain, which he does very well. He's part of a diverse cast that includes Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Forest Whitaker, Wen Jiang, and Riz Ahmed (from HBO's "The Night Of") as rebels. Jimmy Smits shows up for a couple of scenes, though he's given exactly nothing to do. And yes, James Earl Jones returns as the voice of You Know Who.

Have you ever been on vacation overseas and had trouble figuring out the light switches and power outlets and adapters? Ever borrowed someone else's phone and not known intuitively how to use it because it's different from yours? You'd never have that problem in a "Star Wars" movie. Whether you're a rebel or an imperial soldier, you can always use the other guy's tech, plug in, subvert the system, and do whatever you want to its electronics, spaceships, or anything else. And if you can't, the device will always have a pleasant female computer voice explaining what you should do.

Just as kids have fallen for "Star Wars" androids like C3PO and R2D2 in the past, they're going to want toys that look and act like K2SO, the mechanical sidekick in "Rogue One." He's much more entertaining than the rolling ball in "The Force Awakens."

Bottom line: if you're not into "Star Wars" movies, you probably won't bother with "Rogue One," and don't have to. If you are, you'll probably go and love it. If you're really into them, you'll probably go multiple times and dissect every mini-reference to something else in the Lucas Universe.

Either way, these movies are critic-proof and, since it doesn't matter, I'm giving it a 7 out of 10.

Monday, December 12, 2016

They Still Suck

After the latest embarrassing loss by the Rams -- where most of the fans in the stands left at halftime -- LA sportswriters have had enough of Jeff Fisher.

Updated 2:09pm...Apparently, owner Stan Kroenke has had enough, too. He fired Fisher a few minutes ago, according to ESPN. That means Fisher won't be able to break the record for most losses ever by a head coach. He finishes tied for second -- and I do mean "finishes," because he'll never get to run another NFL team. As for Kroenke, this is more proof that he's a brilliant businessman, since he'll still have to pay Fisher for the two-year contract extension he signed before this season.

Movie Review: Miss Sloane


Jessica Chastain is Elizabeth Sloane, a top lobbyist in Washington, DC, for a big firm run by Sam Waterston. She's focused, intense, and fearless. You'd be much better off having her on your side than working for your opponents.

One day, she's asked to a meeting with a man from an NRA-like organization that wants her help getting women to buy more guns by making them more afraid. Sloane doesn’t want to do that -- so much so that she laughs in the guy's face. Not long after, she gets approached by the head of a small, boutique lobbying firm that’s been hired by the Brady Campaign to get legislation passed that closes the gun-show and internet gun-buying loopholes. She switches sides.

All of this is framed by Sloane being grilled at a congressional hearing by a senator played by John Lithgow (who doesn’t chomp any scenery, fortunately) over some of the less-than-scrupulous ways she's done her job, particularly when it comes to the non-explicit bribery of members of Congress. We know that's a blatant part of the corruption that makes Washington tick, but she's run afoul of some very important people, and they want to take her down as much as she does them.

In between, we're treated to closeup views of how Sloane earned her reputation as a bulldog who will do anything to win, regardless of what it means for ethical concerns, her opponents, her colleagues, her friends, or her personal life (she relieves stress by popping pills and hiring male escorts to meet her in hotel rooms).

"Miss Sloane" was directed by John Madden, who did “Shakespeare In Love,” “Proof,” and “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.” He gets a very good performance out of Chastain, in a role that wants her to be Julia Roberts in “Erin Brockovich.” It’s not quite that, because the script (from rookie screenwriter Jonathan Perera, trying his best to mimic Aaron Sorkin's style) doesn't rise to the levels I hoped it would. That doesn't mean it's bad, just not as great as it could have been.

Still, I enjoyed "Miss Sloane" enough to give it an 8.5 out of 10.

Best Thing I've Read Today

Farhad Manjoo says we've come to the end of the line for gadgets:

For 30 or 40 years, through recessions and war, through stability and revolutions, they were always there, one gadget after another, from transistor radios to TRS-80s to Walkmen and Gameboys, then iPods and Flips, GoPros and Fitbits. We were sure gadgets would always be with us, because they had always been with us, and it was good.

But no. Winter is coming for gadgets. Or maybe winter has already come for gadgets. Everywhere you look, these days, gadgets seem on the rocks. Pebble, which makes smartwatches, has been purchased by Fitbit, which has had its own problems. GoPro may be going bust, while Jawbone, Nest and other members of the gentry of gadget pageantry look just about ready to stick a fork into.

What happened to gadgets? It’s a fascinating story about tech progress, international manufacturing and shifting consumer preferences, and it all ends in a sad punch line: Great gadget companies are now having a harder time than ever getting off the ground. The gadget age is over — and even if that’s a kind of progress, because software now fills many of our needs, the great gadgetapocalypse is bound to make the tech world, and your life, a little less fun.
Read Manjoo's full piece here.

Picture Of The Day

Tina Fey was honored recently at a Hollywood Reporter event for powerful women in entertainment, and gave a great speech. There's some inside stuff, but it's mostly Tina being Tina -- smart, clever, and damned funny. She's introduced by Jon Hamm (who's no slouch, either)...

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Jop Hits 100


My wife and I attend lots of shows at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, and a smile always crosses our faces whenever we see that the cast includes Joneal Joplin. We've seen him in "Follies," "You Can't Take It With You," "Witness For The Prosecution," and many others. On the occasion of Joplin's one hundredth Rep production, "A Christmas Carol," Judith Newmark wrote this appreciation of the veteran actor.

Picture Of The Day

In my early radio days, I worked at a station that played a lot of "southern rock" from the Allman Brothers to Lynyrd Skynyrd to the Marshall Tucker Band. One of the tunes in regular rotation was "The South's Gonna Do It Again" by the Charlie Daniels Band. As a northerner, every time I played it I wondered what, exactly, the south was going to do again -- lose the civil war?

Which is why I found this so funny...

Saturday, December 10, 2016

David Bianculli, "The Platinum Age Of Television"


Here's my conversation with David Bianculli, editor of TVWorthWatching.com and TV critic for NPR's "Fresh Air," about his new book, "The Platinum Age Of Television." Among the topics we discussed:
  • When the "platinum age" of TV began and which shows made it worthy of that title.
  • His awkward interview with Louis CK, who remembered a negative review David gave to one of his earlier shows.
  • Whether we have too much television, and how anyone can possibly keep up with everything that's available.
  • What he thinks of CBS airing colorized versions of "The Dick Van Dyke Show" this Sunday night.
  • How going back to watch vintage TV shows we loved as kids might not be such a good idea.
  • The legacy of TV executive Grant Tinker, who died last week.
Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Previously on Harris Online...

Grant Imahara, "The White Rabbit Project"


I was a big fan of "Mythbusters," watching all the episodes in its 14 seasons with Adam Savage, Jamie Hyneman, Kari Byron, Tory Belleci, and Grant Imahara. That show went off the air this year and Adam and Jamie went their separate ways, but Kari, Tory, and Grant are still working together on a new show, “The White Rabbit Project,” for Netflix (which released all ten episodes for streaming Friday). When Grant appeared on my show, we discussed:
  • Whether he had a robot pop the question to his girlfriend when they got engaged this week.
  • What happened to Geoff Peterson, the skeleton sidekick he created for Craig Ferguson's "Late Late Show."
  • Why the new show is called “The White Rabbit Project." 
  • The stories he, Kari, and Tory tell on the new show and devices he created (like the "cryo-gun").
  • Whether Tory hurts himself in the new show as much as he did on the old one.
  • The frustration of the "Speed" bus jump he tried to recreate on "Mythbusters" in 2009.
  • What are Adam and Jamie are up to post-"Mythbusters."
Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

FYI: Science Channel will air a marathon of all the "Mythbusters" episodes beginning December 23rd.

Showbiz Show 12/9/16


This week on the showbiz segment of my show, Colin Jeffrey and I reviewed "Office Christmas Party" and "Miss Sloane." I also explained why you shouldn't fall for the TV commercials for "Nocturnal Animals," which I have called one of the worst movies of the year.

Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

All-Dead Harris Challenge 12/9/16

As we near the end of 2016, it's time to look back at the famous people who won't be around for 2017 with an All-Dead edition of my Harris Challenge -- the most fun you can have with your radio on! Listen and play along, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Harris Challenges? Click here.

Knuckleheads In The News® 12/9/16


On this edition of Knuckleheads In The News®, I have stories of possible breast implant evidence, a wedding reception on the road, and a conversation between Google Home and Amazon Echo. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Knuckleheads In The News®Click here.

Thursday, December 08, 2016

My News Withdrawal

It's been a month since Election Day, and I have been in news withdrawal. It's not that I eschew all incoming information, but for the last four weeks I have made every effort to avoid any article or social media post or television story about our president-elect.

I don't care to hear any post-mortems on the election, why he won, why she lost, or a litany of predictions about what he's going to do. I don't want to read essays about the forgotten voter. I certainly don't want to hear prognostications from any pundit who got the election outcome blatantly wrong but, rather than being held accountable, continues to have a speaking role in the blather-sphere.

I'm not willing to expend any brain power reading about who's on his transition team or who he's chosen for the cabinet. It's not that I don't care about the negative impact he will likely have on the Supreme Court, Obamacare, climate change, and other issues. I simply burned out on all of it.

I haven't watched any of the late-night-show monologues, although I had already cut way back on them because none of the hosts are creating television that compels me to record them in the first place. I gave up on "The Daily Show" many months ago, so I've missed Trevor Noah's take on the election entirely. While Samantha Bee's "Full Frontal" remains one of our favorite shows, my wife and I sadly skipped through it this week because we felt like we were being hit in the head by a ball-peen hammer.

I have unfollowed several reporters as well as some friends who continue to post items on this subject on their Twitter and Facebook feeds. In fact, I spend a lot less time checking those outlets -- because they're too full of that from which I'm abstaining.

It's not that I'm denying reality. Rather, I feel as if I binged and overdosed harshly on the far-too-long campaign season, and quitting cold turkey was the only answer. Or maybe the better analogy is to a crash diet -- except instead of keeping unhealthy crap out of my mouth, I've barred it from my eyes and ears.

Most of all, I'm glad I don't have a daily talk radio show in which I probably couldn't ignore all of this. I'm happy to do my politics-free three hours a week of nonsense on Friday afternoons and walk out of the building feeling happy -- instead of the sense of dread I witness on the faces of too many of you.

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Adam Renewed Everything

Glad to hear that TruTV has renewed "Adam Ruins Everything" for another 16 episodes in 2017. It's one of the best shows on television, particularly at a time when we (sadly) need more proof that facts matter. If you missed my conversation with host Adam Conover a few weeks ago, check it out here.

Sports Stadium Redux


Here we go again. Another plan to use taxpayer money to pay for a sports stadium in St. Louis.

Despite numerous studies over the years that show that investing public funds in these projects does not return a windfall profit to the city or create enough permanent jobs to justify them, authorities on both the local and state level are so desperate to attract a Major League Soccer team that they're willing to give away the store.

Mike Faulk of the Post-Dispatch says the team's ownership group wants Missouri to provide $40 million in tax credits. What will it get in return? An estimated $44.8 million in tax revenue -- but that's over the next 33 years! A return of 12% would look good on an annual basis, but as a total, doesn't even keep up with inflation over three decades. And then there's the land giveaway (the acreage next to Union Station that's now publicly owned) and the $80 million contribution from the city of St. Louis, which will have to be approved by a public referendum. Hopefully, voters will give that the thumbs-down.

I'm not saying any of this because I don't want a Major League Soccer team in my town. Frankly, I couldn't care less either way, since I'm never going to attend a game. It's fine that someone wants to start a new enterprise downtown. However, I'm being consistent in my opposition to using taxpayer dollars to underwrite projects that will put more cash into a business owner's pockets than into the municipal coffers. I said the same things about the new Busch Stadium and Ballpark Village and the doomed efforts to build a new stadium for the Rams.

Politicians must stop falling for these pitches and the economic blackmail that comes with it. When these ownership groups say, "If you don't give us what we want, we'll go somewhere else," we'd all be a lot better off if our leaders said "So long!"

Bottom line: build these behemoths with your own money, not ours.

Pearl Harbor

This story first appeared on this site on December 7, 2009.


A few years ago, we went on vacation to Hawaii, and made the obligatory visit to Pearl Harbor. I wasn't sure what we'd see or how I'd react, but I got more than I bargained for.

As part of the tour of the USS Arizona Memorial, we joined a hundred other tourists in the park's movie theater to see a short documentary which gave an overview of the naval base's history and details about the attack of December 7, 1941. When it was over, a US Park Ranger asked us all to remain seated. He said that, from time to time, they get a visit from a survivor of the attack, and we had one in the theater that day.

He introduced a man who'd served aboard the USS Raleigh, a cruiser that was hit by a torpedo while moored at Pearl Harbor. While listing and nearly capsizing (pictured above), gunmen on the Raleigh still managed to shoot down five Japanese planes, including the one that dropped a bomb through the aft section of the ship. None of the crew died, though a few were wounded, as they saved the ship from sinking (here's a full report on what happened to the Raleigh that day). The Raleigh was repaired and back in action less than a year later, while most of the crew were transferred to other vessels, where they joined the fight in the Pacific when the US entered World War II.

The Ranger asked the Navy veteran to stand up, which he did, to a rousing ovation from the crowd. We all then left the theater and got aboard the launch which took us to the USS Arizona. When we docked, two Navy personnel escorted the Raleigh veteran off first, while we waited patiently.

As we took our time to observe all there was to see at the Memorial, I noticed that no one was approaching the vet, so I went over to him. I told him I didn't want to bother him, just wanted to thank him for his service. He looked up at me and nodded as he said, "I lost too many friends in this war." I told him I could only imagine the horror he'd witnessed that day. We stood there silently for a few more seconds before I thanked him again, we shook hands, and said goodbye.

When it was time to return to the launch, everyone was on board except the Raleigh veteran. He was talking quietly to two young sailors who were accompanying him outside in their starched-white uniforms. Just as they were about to help him onto the boat, he turned, brought his octogenarian body to full attention, and offered a crisp salute in the direction of the Memorial.

I teared up. My daughter grabbed my hand. No one said a word. We all understood.

One final show of respect for the long-gone but not forgotten.

As I Tweeted

If the Boston Red Sox have any sense of humor, they will schedule Throwback Uniform Day for Chris Sale's first start.

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Poker Collusion

There's a scene in the movie "Rounders" where a bunch of professional poker players from New York City are in Atlantic City and end up at the same table with each other. Then some non-pros sit down and, while the pros aren't colluding with each other, they know they have a better chance playing hands against the amateurs than against each other, so that's what they do...


A guy from Las Vegas was in St. Louis recently and sat down in our $5-10 no limit hold'em game. Naturally, the conversation turned to where he usually played in Vegas. He talked about the action at Aria, the Encore, and the Venetian. Someone asked him about the Bellagio poker room and he replied that he still played $5-10 there occasionally, but won't play in the $10-20 game anymore because, too often, there are players at the table working off the same bankroll. That means that they've agreed to share their winnings and losses, and because they're not playing against each other, they're more likely to team up on you whenever you get involved in a hand with them. If there are a couple of these teams at the same table, that makes four out of nine players who have a distinct advantage over anyone playing on their own (which we all should be).

I've been at the table when two opponents were obviously playing together, making moves to push other people out of pots, even when they didn't have much of a hand. The worst example I remember was in 2010 at the Venetian, a stop on the PokerStars North American Poker Tour. I was in a pot-limit Omaha cash game at about 3am, playing four-handed, and I knew one of the other players, John, who was from St. Louis.

That's when Young Guy One sat down at the table. He played fairly tight poker for about 15 minutes until Young Guy Two sat down. They barely looked at each other, but both of them started getting way too aggressive for this game, pushing people off hands and taking down several pots in a row. They were especially sticking it to John, whose losses had put him on tilt. He started playing more hands than he should have and they kept playing right back at him. However, when they had gotten him out of the way (for instance, raising and re-raising so much on the flop or turn that he had to fold), they stopped betting against each other. They even laughed as they showed their hands, and we could see that neither of them had anything decent most of the time.

After a half hour of this, I'd had enough and called over the floor supervisor, told her I thought these Young Guys were colluding at the table, and explained what I'd seen. She turned to them and asked if they knew each other. There was a pause before they both quickly picked up their chips without saying a word and left together. John was pissed off at me because he wasn't going to get a chance to get his money back, but I explained that he was at such a disadvantage against those two that it wasn't going to happen.

On another occasion, I was accused of collusion. It was during a tournament series in Tunica, Mississippi, and there were a lot of other people from St. Louis there. After busting out of a tournament, I put my name on the list for a pot-limit Omaha cash game. I was eventually seated at a table with Alan and Debbie, two very good players from back home.

We were talking about our experiences in some of the tournaments and other cash games when someone at the table that we didn't know -- who had been losing because of his terrible play -- said, "I knew it. You three know each other. It's obvious that you're playing together against the rest of us." I responded, "If you think we're playing together, you're not paying attention. Debbie would like nothing more than to take all my chips, and I'd be ecstatic if I got all of Alan's chips. That's true in St. Louis as much as it is here in Tunica."

Alan and Debbie laughed at this as another player we didn't know chimed in, adding, "They're not colluding. I've watched every hand at this table, and I haven't seen any evidence they're playing together. You're just mad because they're better players than you are and you keep giving your chips away." That really put the loser on tilt. On the next hand, he was all in on the flop with a non-nuts straight draw, and when it hit but he lost all his chips to someone with the nuts (who was not Alan, Debbie, or me), he stormed away from the table.

By the way, Debbie took about $1,200 off of Alan and me that day. And she never offered to split it with us.

Monday, December 05, 2016

Betting and Punting

Here's something I wrote in 2004 about an incident at a Las Vegas casino that no longer exists...

The Stardust sports book in Las Vegas is considered the sports book, because it is traditionally the first to post the line on most sporting events, and many other books follow its lead. Bob Scucci, who runs the Stardust book, has been on my radio show many times.

Two weeks ago, I was in Vegas and went to the Stardust because it was a great place to watch the AFC and NFC championship games. Naturally, I said hello to Bob and we chatted for awhile. He told me how much the north end of The Strip is changing for the better, thanks to Steve Wynn's new mega-resort and the Fashion Show mall being in the neighborhood. That's good for the Stardust, so I was happy for him.

He comped me breakfast at their coffee shop. I went to eat, then came back to find a seat in the sports book and put down a wager or two. Since I didn't have a hometown rooting interest, putting some money on the games would make them more fun to watch.

One of my bets was a parlay that included one of those proposition bets. It had to do with which team would punt first in the AFC championship game. Since the Colts hadn't punted once in their two previous games due to their high-powered offense, I bet that it would be the Patriots.

As the game went along, neither team punted for quite awhile. It was well into the second quarter before one of them got in trouble and had to kick it away. Unfortunately, it wasn't the Patriots. The Colts lined up for the punt that would immediately make my bet a loser -- but the ball was snapped over the punter's head! As it rolled deep into their own territory, the Colts' punter, Hunter Smith, ran back and kicked the ball on the ground out of his own end zone, for a safety.

Since I had money on this, I ran over to Bob and asked, "Does that count as a punt?" He replied with authority, "I don't know!" He explained that he didn't think so, that it would probably be considered a muffed punt, but that he'd have to wait until they got the official stats from the NFL.

After a safety, the team that was scored against has to kick off on the next play. But because their regular kicker doesn't do it (the punter does), I raised the question of whether the kickoff counted as a punt. This one, Bob knew: it's not a punt, it's a "free kick." In other words, as far as the Stardust was concerned, there had yet to be a single punt in this game, so my wager was still alive. Whew!

The game continued until more than halfway through the third quarter before the outcome of my bet would be settled. Unfortunately, it was the Colts who were forced to punt at that point, and this time the ball didn’t go over the punter’s head.

That killed my bet -- and made my earlier meal the most expensive breakfast I've ever had.

Update: after the Stardust was imploded in 2007, Bob Scucci went on to be Director of Race and Sports for Boyd Gaming Corp.

Saturday, December 03, 2016

David Pogue's Basics: Money

David Pogue, the man behind Yahoo Tech, returned to my show to talk about the latest in his Basics series, this one full of tips that will save you money. He has hundreds of suggestions of discounts and freebies you (and I) didn't know about, including a few that we discussed:
  • why you should buy your own cable box and modem instead of paying rent to the cable company every month;
  • what your options are if you cut the cord and just watch TV online instead;
  • why you should have a credit card that pays you cash back instead of airline frequent-flier miles;
  • why you shouldn't change your car's oil every 3,000 miles;
  • how you can get your flat tire repaired for free;
  • how you can get Starbucks to give you coffee that's hot but won't burn your mouth;
  • a problem with AT&T's "unlimited" data plan that they don't warn you about.
The full title of David's book is "Pogue's Basics: Money -- Essential Tips and Shortcuts (That No One Bothers To Tell You) About Beating The System."

Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!
Previously on Harris Online...

Showbiz Show 12/2/16


This week on the showbiz segment of my show, Colin Jeffrey and I reviewed "Manchester By The Sea," "Bad Santa 2," "Moana," "Rules Don't Apply," and "Nocturnal Animals." We also talked about an upcoming CBS reality show, "Hunted," some streaming suggestions, and more.

Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Harris Challenge 12/2/16

On this edition of my Harris Challenge -- the most fun you can have with your radio on -- the topical trivia categories include I See Dead People, Things That Happened In December, and Where Was That? Listen and play along, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Harris Challenges? Click here.

Knuckleheads In The News® 12/2/16


On this edition of Knuckleheads In The News®, I have stories of a costly eBay error, a thief's debit card, and online breakup revenge. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Knuckleheads In The News®Click here.

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Streaming Suggestions


I have two shows to recommend you watch if you have an Amazon Prime account:
  • "Goliath," starring Billy Bob Thornton as a formerly-great lawyer who drank his way to the bottom, but gets a chance at redemption in a case against the big law firm run by his ex-partner (William Hurt, in full slime mode). With Molly Parker as his arch-nemesis, Maria Bello as his ex-wife, and Harold Perrineau ("Lost") as an impatient judge. Eight episodes in the season. I hope they make more.
  • "Good Girls Revolt," about women working at a news magazine in 1969 who are allowed to be researchers and secretaries, but not reporters. Based on a book by Lynn Povich (Maury's sister), one of the real-life women who complained to the EEOC about discrimination at Newsweek. With lots of talk of consciousness-raising and the beginnings of the feminist movement, think of it as a follow-up to "Mad Men" if Peggy and Joan were the central characters. I don't know anyone in the uniformly good cast, although Mamie Gummer plays Nora Ephron in the pilot -- odd since she's the daughter of Meryl Streep, who played Ephron in "Heartburn." I'm only halfway through the ten-episode season, but I'm hooked. 
Meanwhile, Amazon's competitor, Netflix, has finally added the download option to some of its movies and original shows. That means that you can download the content to your iOS or Android phone or tablet (it doesn't work for laptops or desktops) and then watch it without having to have a wi-fi or internet connection later. Amazon has offered this for much of its Prime Video content for awhile, which has allowed me to binge-watch stuff while flying without having to pay for the costly (and slow) onboard wi-fi. Now I'll do the same with Netflix material -- like the new season of "Black Mirror," which I've only been able to watch a couple of episodes of.

One other TV note: as a longtime fan of "The Amazing Race," Reality Blurred's Andy Dehnart had me worried earlier this week when he reported that CBS had not set a premiere date for Season 29, which is already in the can. So I was glad to see his update saying that the network has announced it will return on April 21st. However, there are no plans to do a thirtieth season of the show -- yet. Damn you, McGyver!

Picture Of The Day

Because you've always wanted to ride a roller coaster wearing nothing but a towel while sitting in warm water...

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Grant Tinker


Legendary television executive Grant Tinker, who has died at 90, may have been responsible for ushering more great shows onto the air than anyone else.

In the 1970s, he ran MTM Enterprises, which produced "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" (and its spinoffs, "Rhoda," "Phyllis," and "Lou Grant"), "The Bob Newhart Show," "WKRP In Cincinnati," "Hill Street Blues," "St. Elsewhere." While chairman of NBC in the 1980s -- along with programming genius Brandon Tartikoff -- Tinker not only saved the network but put it in first place in both the ratings and the Emmys with "The Cosby Show," "Cheers," "Taxi," "Miami Vice," "Golden Girls," and "Family Ties."

In an appreciation of Tinker, Ken Levine writes:
For me his greatest achievement was how much of a mensch he was. As a leader he was kind, thoughtful, smart, and treated everyone with respect. His philosophy was to hire the best people (like Allan Burns and James L. Brooks for "The Mary Tyler Moore Show") and let them do their thing. Instead of injecting his own creative input (i.e. “notes”) he took on the role of protector – standing up for his writers against the networks, shielding them from unwanted interference. There’s no one like that today. Not even close.

MTM was Camelot for writers in the ‘70s. It’s where all TV writers wanted to work. When David Isaacs and I were starting out, MTM was our brass ring.
Not everything Tinker did was a smash hit. In 1988, my wife and I both worked on the nationally-syndicated "USA Today: The TV Show," which was co-produced by Gannett and Tinker's company. It had four anchors (one for each color-coded section of the newspaper): Edie Magnus, Bill Macatee, Robin Young, and Boyd Matson. It was a ratings disaster that had the disadvantage of terrible time slots in major markets -- and was downgraded from there. Towards the end, we joked that it was nothing more than "USA Today: The TV Guide Listing."

I don't know how much direct involvement Tinker had in that project, but I bet he didn't include it on his work history. It was merely a minor smudge on an otherwise sterling career. By the way, it's not on our resumes, either.

The Vegas Squeeze


In June, I wrote about MGM/Mirage beginning to charge for parking at its properties on the Las Vegas Strip (Bellagio, Aria, Mirage, etc), regardless of whether you park your own car or turn it over to a valet:
That's going to kill business for the rental car companies and the valet parking guys, who have been making a good living for a long time at many of the big Strip properties. I know many people who used to tip two or three dollars, but with the $18 charge, they're pissed off and more likely to tip just a buck, so in the end, the corporation makes more, but the little guy running around in the garage takes home less.

I used to rent a car often when I visited Vegas because it turned out to be cheaper than taking taxis everywhere. But with Lyft (and Uber) making it less expensive to move from place to place, and most of my poker action at Bellagio or Aria -- and no desire to pay those parking fees -- I see no reason to have a rental car in Vegas any more.
I predicted at the time that other Vegas casino companies would probably follow suit and, sure enough, Caesars Entertainment has just announced it will do the same starting next month at 8 of its 9 Vegas venues (The Rio is the exception).

Why are they doing this? Because you're not gambling enough in Las Vegas anymore. The truth is that, with casinos all over the country, you don't have to go all the way to Nevada to play blackjack, slots, or poker. So when tourists go there -- and they still do, in droves -- they spend their time and money doing other things instead of gambling (eating, going to shows, riding the ferris wheel, walking up and down the strip).

With the casinos no longer the huge revenue-generators they once were, the property owners had to devise other ways to squeeze dollars out of your pocket. Thus the mandatory "resort fee" which covers wi-fi in your room, the hotel pool and gym, and other things you may not use but will still find added to your bill "for your convenience."

That's also why there haven't been cheap buffets or meals anyplace on the strip for several years. They figure if they can't get you at the tables where you gamble, they'll get you at the tables where you eat.

And now, in the parking spots, too.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Johnnie Johnson, Rock Legend


Today, eleven years after his death, Johnnie Johnson received the Congressional Gold Medal in a ceremony at the National Blues Museum in St. Louis. That made me dig into my archives to find this interview I did with Johnnie on June 29, 1999, nine days before he turned 75 years old. We were joined by Travis Fitzpatrick, who wrote Johnnie's biography, "The Father Of Rock And Roll," and -- along with Gene Ackmann of Butch Wax And The Hollywoods -- was instrumental in getting a petition signed that got Johnnie into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.

When Johnnie was inducted in 2001, he was called "one of the unsung heroes of rock and roll." You may not know his name, but you know Johnnie's work because he played piano on almost all of Chuck Berry's hits -- in fact, he's the one "Johnny B. Goode" is about. His page on the RRHOF website says:
Berry’s rocking hillbilly style melded with Johnson’s jazz-tinged blues and boogie. Many of Chuck Berry’s rock and roll classics - including “Sweet Little Sixteen,” “School Days” and “Roll Over Beethoven” - came about during impromptu rehearsals when Berry would show up with lyrics and ask Johnson to play some music behind it. “Just me, Chuck and the piano” is how Johnson put it. Johnson and Berry traveled to Chicago in 1955, where they recorded “Maybellene,” the first of many Chuck Berry hits that featured Johnson on piano. In fact, Berry wrote “Johnny B. Goode” as a tribute to Johnson, who often kept playing piano long after a show ended, sitting in with jazz bands and anyone who would have him. “I would play anytime, anywhere, with anybody,” he has said. Referring to his disappearing acts, Berry would look at him and say, “Why can’t you just be good, Johnny?”

Johnson remained with Berry until 1973. It was nothing personal, he said of his departure. I was just tired and, plus, I was scared to fly. Over time, there was a growing recognition that Johnson’s musical contributions to Berry’s songs were essential to their success. The humble, overlooked pianist finally received some long-overdue attention in the Chuck Berry film documentary Hail! Hail! Rock and Roll, wherein Keith Richards and others testified to the importance of Johnson’s piano stylings. Ironically, Johnson at the time was working as a bus driver in St. Louis. The intervention of Richards and others and the attention brought to him by the film returned Johnson to the world of music.
For Johnnie's visit to my show, I arranged to have an electric piano in the studio so he could play, much to the delight of a crowd of people who jammed in with us -- along with dozens outside observing through the studio windows -- to listen to him. Sitting three feet away, I was fascinated by his left hand, playing those boogie-woogie bass lines that helped launch a musical genre so many decades ago.

In our conversation, Johnnie shared stories about how he and Chuck wrote some of rock's seminal songs -- which Johnnie never got songwriting credit or royalties for -- as well as working with Keith Richards, Eric Clapton, Gregg Allman, Bob Weir, and others.

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Previously on Harris Online...