If you like trivia, check out my other site, THE HARRIS CHALLENGE, and play every weekday!

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Movie Review: Cafe Society

I've never before chosen movies made by the same person as my worst of the year twice in a row -- mostly because I don't see Adam Sandler and Rob Schneider movies. But I do attend screenings of Woody Allen movies, because I was such a fan of his for the first couple of decades of his career, and since then he's been able to happily surprise me roughly half the time with movies like "Blue Jasmine" and "Midnight in Paris."

Unfortunately, the surprise is how disappointing his work has become since. I chose Allen's "An Irrational Man" as the cinematic dregs of 2015. Now, his "Cafe Society" may well duplicate that feat for 2016.

The plot starts with Jesse Eisenberg as the latest young actor to do a Woody Allen impression on screen. I don't know if Allen directed him to do it, or if Eisenberg chose it on his own, but it doesn't work. Neither does the unnecessary voiceover narration by Allen, who sounds wearily like every one of his 80 years. Worse, the narration adds nothing to a story that doesn't have much to begin with.

Eisenberg's character leaves his stereotypical Jewish family behind in 1930s New York to move to Hollywood, where he has an uncle (Steve Carrell) who's a big shot agent. Carrell can be so good, but here he's burdened with cliched lines and a boring pace. The role was originally played by Bruce Willis, who did himself an enormous favor by leaving during filming.

The agent doesn't want much to do with his nephew, but finally agrees to hire him, and assigns his assistant (Kristin Stewart) to show the kid around. Naturally, they fall in love, but she's involved with another man (you get three guesses who that could be) whom she eventually chooses over Jesse. So, he moves back to New York, starts running a nightclub for his gangster brother (Corey Stoll), and falls in love with another woman (Blake Lively).

This all sounds so much better in my description than it is on the screen. Allen has nothing for Stoll's gangster to do except whack people and talk tough. At one point, someone asks what happened to his partner in crime and Stoll replies, "Oh, he's not around anymore." It's obvious by the context that Stoll killed him, but Allen doesn't trust the audience enough to get that inference -- he inserts a quick scene of the partner being shot in a barber chair, just to make it clear. He also bathed the whole movie in a sepia tone, as if we couldn't understand the era the plot unfolds in, and covers the whole thing in the same old jazz soundtrack Allen has used a dozen times before.

"Cafe Society" was financed by Amazon Studios as part of the deal that supposedly includes a six-part television series Allen is going to make for them later this year. Considering his creative drought of late, there's no reason to look forward to that. I wonder if Amazon is having second thoughts, considering this movie cost $30 million to make but only earned $359,289 in its opening weekend.

I give "Cafe Society" a 1 out of 10. It's going to be hard to beat in the race to the bottom this year.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Showbiz Show 7/29/16

This week on the showbiz segment of my show, Colin Jeffrey and I reviewed three movies: "Jason Bourne," "Cafe Society," and "Life, Animated." We also discussed "Bad Moms," "Nerve," a new season of "Black Mirror" coming to Netflix this fall, and a bonus for Beatles fans.

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

Harris Challenge 7/29/16

On this edition of my Harris Challenge -- the most fun you can have with your radio on -- the trivia categories include She Was First, Sports and Hobbies, and Vice Presidents. Listen and play along, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Harris Challenges? Click here.

Knuckleheads In The News® 7/29/16

On this edition of Knuckleheads In The News® I have stories about Krispy Kreme meth, a machete-wielding ghost-hacker, and naked lawn mower riders. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Knuckleheads In The News®Click here.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Picture Of The Day

This was the best speech of the night at the Democrats convention -- and it wasn't from a politician:

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Getting Customer Service Right

I've been a fan of Southwest Airlines for years, flying them almost exclusively in my trips around the country. When American Airlines essentially abandoned St. Louis in 2009, offering far fewer nonstop flights to domestic destinations, Southwest swooped in, picked up the open gates at Terminal 2, and started carrying a lot of people to a lot of places. I like their staff, their attitude, their pricing, and their no-change-fee policy. It's a very good company that has shown time and again it knows how to treat customers right.

Here's a recent example. Last week, I got caught up in the Southwest Airlines computer problem across their system. I sat in the Dallas Love Field terminal for about 90 minutes before my flight finally got off the ground, and was happy that the delay hadn't been too long. Considering how many other people's lives had been upended by flights that were cancelled, I wasn't too upset.

Two days later, I received an email from Southwest apologizing for the inconvenience and offering a 50% discount off my next flight. I assume that the airline sent the same email to everyone else affected by the outage. Coincidentally, I'm planning a return to Vegas later this year and hadn't booked the flight yet, so I went to Southwest's website, inserted the promo code, and 2 minutes later, I was all set -- at half the price.

That's the kind of customer service I'm talking about.

Video Recommendations

I've been enjoying "Close Up With The Hollywood Reporter," a Sundance series in which Lacey Rose, senior television reporter for that trade magazine, has a roundtable conversation with a half-dozen actors, directors, or showrunners to talk about their respective TV series. The new episodes air Sunday mornings, but you can also stream past episodes (including Drama Actresses and Comedy Actors) on the show's website.

I've admired Jim Jeffries for quite a while as one of the best touring comedians around. Earlier this year, I went to The Pageant to see him do his standup show, and was glad I did. The highlight was a 12-minute piece about his battle with his girlfriend about having their baby son vaccinated. Jeffries doesn't shy away from including very personal details in his stories, and this one ended with a surprising twist, with a lot of laughs along the way. I'm happy to say you can now see that routine as part of his full, 90-minute special, "Freedumb," streaming on Netflix. In it, he also goes after Bill Cosby, Donald Trump, and America's obsession with itself. Great stuff.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Who Wants To Be A Delegate?

Why would anyone want to be a delegate to a political convention? I suppose you'd have to be the kind of person who enjoys wearing a straw hat while sitting in an arena listening to speeches, all the time knowing that you don't actually have anything to do with the outcome of the nominating process or the election.

Even those on the platform committees are wasting their time, because that document means nothing. It's a compilation of things the extremists in your party believe in, but not necessarily the views of anyone else. No candidate -- presidential or otherwise -- has to sign a promise to support and abide by the party's platform. So, why bother?

The roll call of the states is a waste of time, part of the pomp-and-circumstance of a bygone era when we didn't know the results of each primary and caucus weeks (or months) before the convention. That era, by the way, ended with the invention of the telegraph, not the internet. There's no suspense -- despite the Wolf Blitzers of the world hoping for some kind of drama, dammit -- and no surprise ending. The media could have stopped using the word "presumptive" before "candidate" for both Clinton and Trump when primary season ended last month. It wasn't a presumption, it was a foregone conclusion.

This goes to the whole idea of our voting in the primaries not for candidates, but for delegates who then go to the party convention and essentially cast a group ballot on our behalf. And it extends to the electoral college, an idea long past its due date, in which yet another group of people have the final say as to who will be our president and vice president.

These concepts began with the Founding Fathers, who didn't believe that the average American was informed enough to decide on important matters like who our leaders would be. While that may have been as true in the 18th century as it is today (!), we need to cast off that elitism and remove the obstacles which keep the people of this country from choosing our candidates directly.

Sorry, delegates, but you'll have to find someplace else to wear your straw hats and goofy buttons.

Graham Nash's Wild Tales

Three years ago, Graham Nash released his autobiography, "Wild Tales," which included some great stories about his early days as a rocker in Manchester, England, his years with the Hollies, and his still-going partnership with David Crosby and Stephen Stills. It was a lot of fun to read.

While promoting the book, Nash appeared at the Library Of Congress with co-author Bob Spitz, and the two of them touched on many of those stories from Nash's life. He was quite candid about his relationship with Joni Mitchell, how Cass Elliott got him together with Crosby and Stills, his friendship with The Beatles, Crosby's drug problems, and much more. It's a fascinating conversation that lasts a little over an hour (after the obligatory introduction by the woman running the program)...

Previously on Harris Online...

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Bet He Won't

I will give the lead Nevada delegate $1,000 if, during roll call at the DNC, he says, "Home of Las Vegas, the city that exists because people can't do math."

Campaign Songs Controversy

On his HBO "Late Week Tonight" show Sunday, John Oliver did this bit about politicians who use songs without the permission of people who created them. He cited Trump being introduced at the Republican National Convention to Queen's "We Are The Champions," the DNC's past use of Cyndi Lauper's "True Colors," and several others. He even went back to Ronald Reagan's misuse of Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the USA," thinking it was a patriotic anthem when it was actually a scathing commentary on the effect the Vietnam War had on veterans.

Oliver's bit ended with a parody, "Don't Use Our Songs," sung by Usher, Michael Bolton, Cyndi Lauper, Josh Groban, John Mellencamp, Ann and Nancy Wilson (Heart), Dan Reynolds (Imagine Dragons), and Sheryl Crow. In it, they sing about how their songs shouldn't be used without their permission, but if they are used, the artists deserve to be paid a licensing fee.

Here's the problem -- they are paid. When Trump used those songs, it was at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, where lots of music is performed during the year. Therefore, the arena must have a blanket license from BMI and ASCAP, the two organizations that represent music publishers and artists -- and any songs played in that venue, at the GOP convention or any other event, would be covered by that license. Those fees are supposed to trickle down to the people who created the music through some complex formula that probably apportions the money incorrectly, but that's another argument for another day.

That blanket license is what allowed Bruce Springsteen to cover a David Bowie song after the latter's death without paying anything to Bowie's estate. Or for you to try singing "I Will Always Love You" like Whitney Houston at a karaoke night. Or a local band to do their cover version of Beyonce's "Single Ladies" in a bar. Or a DJ to play hours of dance music in a club that overcharges for bottle service.

It even applies to a Gap outlet that's playing a local radio station through the store's speakers. Or a Chipotle doing the same from a Sirius XM channel. All of those venues are covered by these licenses -- or, if they're not, they're likely to get a visit from a representative of BMI/ASCAP who randomly drops in to enforce them.

The way politicians get in trouble is when they use music in a venue that's not licensed, such as an outdoor rally in a park. In that case, they should pay up or get permission. But as long as there's a current license, the artist/publisher/singer/songwriter can scream all they want about it on social media, but they have no legal recourse to stop anyone from using their tunes.

Matt Damon Does John Malkovich

Matt Damon shares a story about working with John Malkovich on the poker movie "Rounders"...

Monday, July 25, 2016

What Ailes You

Several of the male personalities at Fox News -- Brit Hume, Chris Wallace, Geraldo Rivera -- were sad to see Roger Ailes ousted, and had nothing but praise for him last week in the heat of sexual harassment allegations brought by Gretchen Carlson, Megyn Kelly, and several other women who worked for him. Despite the number of female accusers growing into double digits, the guys all rallied behind their boss. But I can't help but wonder how they explain their public support of an alleged serial harasser to the women in their homes -- their wives and daughters.

Surely, if any of the latter made claims like these against their employers, Brit/Chris/Geraldo would support their women against the injustices done to them in the workplace, right? Or is the boys-will-be-boys culture that Ailes built and seems to have encouraged, viewing women as sex objects both on and off the air, reflected in their home lives as well? If so, there are even more victims than we know of.

Lastly, did you notice how quickly the Murdochs moved to get Ailes out once Megyn Kelly revealed to Fox's internal investigators how he had harassed her over the years? I guess it's okay to have verbally abused an ousted former beauty queen whose ratings weren't up to snuff (Carlson) or demoted a reporter because she wouldn't sleep with a bureau chief (Rudi Bakhtiar), but a whole other problem when the accuser is your biggest primetime star (Kelly).

Movie Review: Captain Fantastic

It's a terrible title. When you hear "Captain Fantastic," you think of a superhero movie, particularly because it's summer. Or, if you're of a certain age, you think of Elton John's 1975 album and expect the Brown Dirt Cowboy to come sauntering in.

What you don't think of is a movie about a family, but that's what "Captain Fantastic" is. It's not your ordinary family, though. Viggo Mortensen is terrific as Ben, the father of six kids he's raising in the woods in the Pacific Northwest. They live off the grid, killing animals for food, learning how to defend themselves, and reading books. He teaches them the philosophy of Noam Chomsky, how organized religion oppresses people, and how government should work, but doesn't. There's a thin line between what Ben's doing with his kids and any cult or militia leader you care to name, but it's clear he loves these children, and there's no doubt he's raised them to think for themselves. The child actors who play them are all very good.

Then something happens that forces Ben and his brood to enter the real world, where they are exposed to people and things they've never encountered before. It's that clash that's at the heart of the "Captain Fantastic" story, and I won't tell you much more because I don't want to ruin it except that Frank Langella is perfect as the antagonist, with Kathryn Hahn and Steve Zahn in nice supporting roles.

"Captain Fantastic" is an original and clever story, well-written and directed by Matt Ross (who you might know as Gavin Belson on HBO's "Silicon Valley"). It raises questions about parenting and grief that should spark some debate among those who see it. I strongly recommend it as one of the best movies I've seen this year, with a rating of 8.5 out of 10.

Picture Of The Day

I like a lot of the song re-arranging Scott Bradlee has done for his group, Postmodern Jukebox, including this one, which turns Aerosmith's "Dream On" into a strings-heavy lament, with an amazing vocal by Morgan James...

Sunday, July 24, 2016

A Bullshit Rule

On Thursday night, when Jon Stewart did a desk piece bashing Fox News from Stephen Colbert's "Late Show" desk, he uttered the phrase, "I see your bullshit." CBS bleeped the last word, but any viewer could see what he was saying. Colbert, who was perched under the table, popped up to whisper into Stewart's ear, "We're live!" Stewart then looked into the camera and said, "Oh, we're live. I've never been on a show with stakes before."

Here's the thing: neither Colbert nor the network needed to worry about Stewart uttering that word. "The Late Show" is broadcast in what the FCC refers to as the "safe harbor" hours of 10pm to 6am local time, during which the federal agency says, "a station may air indecent and/or profane material." In fact, that night's show aired more than a half-hour late, putting it post-midnight in the Eastern and Pacific time zones, and after 11pm here in the midwest -- out of reach of the government's scornful rule.

So why was it a concern? Probably because CBS has an internal rule against certain words and images being broadcast at any time -- a notion that seems anachronistic in an era when the average viewer doesn't know the difference between CBS, TBS, and political BS.

Movie Review: Star Trek Beyond

I get sucked into "Star Trek" movies the same way as James Bond movies. I've been going to see each entry in the series for so long -- this year marks the 50th anniversary of the debut of the original series -- that I think I'll miss a great one if I don't see them all. Two hours later, when I walk out, I inevitably have a little bit of an empty feeling. That's the case again with "Star Trek Beyond."

The plot isn't anything special. The Enterprise is lured into a trap by a planet-ruling villain named Krall. He crashes the ship and and kidnaps the crew, which doesn't seem to matter much, because as we've seen so often before, that giant space vessel really only needs seven people to run it -- Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Sulu, Chekhov, Uhuru, and Scotty. The rest of people on board don't seem to do anything important, and very few of them even get speaking roles. But Kirk and his half-dozen colleagues still have to save them and defeat Krall.

What is Krall's plan? It's not clear at all and it doesn't matter. Space villains all want two things -- some sort of revenge and to rule the universe, often by destroying everyone else in it. Idris Elba plays the megalomaniacal bad guy this time, another entry for his very busy IMDb page -- in just the last two years, he's starred in "Beasts Of No Nation" and "Avengers: Age Of Ultron," and done voice work for "Finding Dory," "The Jungle Book," and "Zootopia."

"Star Trek Beyond" is dedicated to the late Leonard Nimoy, whose memory is invoked a couple of times in the script by Doug Jung and Simon Pegg (who plays "Scotty"). There's a nice turn by Sofia Boutella (the scissor-legged woman from "Kingsmen: The Secret Service") as a zebra-skinned alien who works with Enterprisers. The action sequences are fine, as you'd expect from director Justin Lin, who did several "Fast and Furious" movies. The effects are good, but sometimes they’re too much, and quite a few scenes are too dark to really see what’s going on, particularly with 3-D glasses.

Unfortunately, in "Star Trek Beyond," we’re still doomed to a future where you have to fight your enemy in hand-to-hand combat, even if it is on the top of some futuristic structure. There’s also a ridiculous scene where Kirk just happens to find an old motorcycle — gee, I wonder if he’ll get a chance to ride it in a big action sequence?

Bottom line: if you're a "Star Trek" fan, you'll like it. If you're not, you won't bother. My final rating comes somewhere in between. I give it a 6 out of 10.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Showbiz Show 7/22/16

This week on the showbiz segment of my show, Colin Jeffrey and I reviewed five movies: "Lights Out," "Star Trek Beyond," "Ice Age: Collision Course," "Captain Fantastic," and "Hunt For The Wilderpeople." We also discussed the late Garry Marshall, and I recommended "Elvis and Nixon," which is now streaming on Netflix.

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

During this show, I mentioned that Idris Elba, who plays the villain in "Star Trek Beyond," will appear next year in a movie based on Molly Bloom's book, "Molly's Game." It's about her exploits running high-stakes poker games in Los Angeles for celebrities like Tobey Maguire and Ben Affleck. The movie will be written and directed by Aaron Sorkin with Jessica Chastain in the lead. If you missed my conversation with Bloom about the book when it was released in June, 2014, you can listen to it here.

Harris Challenge 7/22/16

On this edition of my Harris Challenge -- the most fun you can have with your radio on -- the trivia categories include The Late Great Garry Marshall, This Day In History, and You Call That A Convention?. Listen and play along, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Harris Challenges? Click here.

Knuckleheads In The News® 7/22/16 (Pokemon Go Edition)

It's an all-Pokemon-Go edition of Knuckleheads In The News® with stories from all across America and Bosnia, too. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Knuckleheads In The News®Click here.

Friday, July 22, 2016

The Magical Porta Potty

Here's another great stunt from Improv Everywhere, who set up at the Governor's Ball concert in New York to surprise people who opened the door to their porta potty...

They first did this stunt in 2015, with a mariachi band, a gospel choir, and a marching band...

Thursday, July 21, 2016

As I Tweeted

All the cheering by Hillary Clinton fans about Roger Ailes' departure from Fox will stop the minute he joins Donald Trump's campaign. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

As I Tweeted

  • If Meredith McIver is a real person (not one of Trump's media-calling alter egos -- let's see her birth certificate!), I bet her next paycheck will include a nice big bonus.
  • The "party of law & order" wants Hillary Clinton executed for treason, but never mind a trial -- that's not their kind of law & order.
  • Here’s how Laura Benanti pulled off her perfect Melania Trump for Stephen Colbert last night.
  • Speaking of Colbert, here's an interesting profile of what's going on backstage at his show now –- including the decision to bring back his Comedy Central character on CBS Monday night.

Road Trip: Choctaw Casino

I've just wrapped up a visit to the Choctaw Casino in Durant, Oklahoma (100 minutes north of Dallas), where there's a big tournament series going on that culminates in a World Poker Tour event in a couple of weeks. I got a really cheap Southwest flight and Priceline-d my way into good values on a rental car and a motel room (not at the Choctaw resort), and stayed for a few nights. I haven't been to Oklahoma in almost a decade, but I was told by friends in St. Louis who had been there in previous years that there would be a large number of players and lot of action. Unfortunately, that turned out not to be true -- at least in the few days I was there.

The Choctaw Casino is so large it took me 40 minutes to make a circuit and look around. The poker room was closed because they'd moved all the action up into the Grand Theater, an event space big enough to hold dozens of tables for the tournaments, with the cash games in a ballroom next door.

When I got there, I wanted to play $5/10 no-limit hold'em, but the biggest game was $2/5 -- although most players were adding what they call a "Dallas straddle." That's a $10 bet on the button, but the blinds don't act first. Action starts under-the-gun, then goes around, skips the button, moves to the blinds, then all the way back around again, and if there are raises, keeps going until all other players have completed their action before the straddle has the ultimate last action pre-flop. Not sure if I liked it (most places when you button straddle, action starts in the small blind and the button simply acts in turn), but it did help build some pots.

On the sign-up board, they had a $1/2/5 game called "Congress." I asked what it was, and the supervisor explained it was five-card pot-limit Omaha hi-lo. I said that everywhere else I've seen it (including St. Louis and Vegas), that's called "Big O." She replied, "Yeah, I don't know why it's called Congress here. Maybe it's because the game is dysfunctional." Pretty good line!

I'd forgotten that dice are illegal in Oklahoma, but they still play craps -- with cards. There are twelve of them split into two colors with 1-6 on the face. An automatic shuffler mixes them up and the box person spreads them out and turns over the first card of each color to determine the number. So, if you're the "shooter" you don't actually do anything. Just put down your bet and they handle the "roll." Oh, and they charge you a $1 "ante" on every come out! Nice edge for the house.

Oklahoma is even more of a red state than Missouri, so when the table talk inevitably turned to politics, several players espoused pro-Trump opinions, including "He'll run this country like a business." I kept my mouth shut, but I wanted to ask, "You mean like his bankrupt casinos, his rip-off university, or his failed steaks, wine, bottled water, and airline?"

There are signs at the entrances to the Choctaw Casino warning that no weapons are allowed inside, but I don't think the two guys at my table were lying when they said they were carrying. I could hear the news report: "Innocent bystander from St. Louis wounded when shots were exchanged after a poker player took a one-out bad beat."

At the end of my trip, I had won a nice amount of money (which was the primary mission), but was disappointed there weren't more cash games and higher stakes. In fact, on my last day, I was only at the casino for 90 minutes before leaving because the tables were so terrible and the options so few. Worse, there's absolutely nothing else to do in Durant, Oklahoma, so the boredom factor was off the scale. I should have gone home a day earlier.

Sorry, Choctaw Nation, but I won't be back.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

We've Seen That Before

Wow, it didn't take long for media outlets to discover that portions of Melania Trump's speech tonight were plagiarized from Michele Obama's speech at the 2008 Democrat convention. That's probably not what her husband intended when he made his WWE-like smoke-and-lights entrance to introduce her. By the way, Melania is on the record with Matt Lauer saying that she wrote the speech. If that's the case -- and there was no professional speechwriter helping her -- then she's been caught like a sixth-grader copying paragraphs from Wikipedia to finish an essay.

The irony is that the portions of the speech Melania lifted from Michelle have to do with living up to your promises (as Trump did with his wedding vows with his first two wives), how you have to work hard to be successful (especially if your multi-millionaire father sets you up), and to respect other people (like her husband constantly does with name-calling, race-baiting, and personal attacks).

I'd bet that, like him, she has convinced herself that she originated everything and has done nothing wrong. That's the mark of class that the Trumps stand for. They live a lie.

There's a must-read in The New Yorker about Tony Schwartz, the ghostwriter for "The Art Of The Deal," the book that set up the false image of a mega-successful businessman that Trump has lived on for so many years. In the piece, Schwartz explains how he created that vision of Trump and how much he regrets it. He says that if he were writing the book today, it would be called "The Sociopath."

The Colbert Return

Stephen Colbert is doing his show live this week and next to cover the conventions in a way he couldn't if they taped the show before each evening's festivities took place. On tonight's show, Jon Stewart appeared and did nothing more than a couple of spit takes, which served as a buildup to Colbert appearing as his old Comedy Central alter ego, complete with slicked-back hair. Considering Colbert said he'd never go back to that character again, I wonder who convinced him to do it.

There's no doubt the re-emergence of "Stephen Colbert" was a hit -- particularly when he did "The Word" segment that was so popular on his old show -- but once that was over, it was back to the boring modern-day Colbert, forced to interview Zoƫ Saldana about the new "Star Trek" movie. You could feel the energy drain from the Ed Sullivan theater.

I won't be surprised if the character shows up again during Colbert's convention coverage. If Jon Stewart re-appears, let's hope he can make a better contribution that simply spitting on cue.

As for doing the show live, not only does it give Colbert an opportunity to be the first host each night to comment on what happened earlier at the convention, it also creates more excitement -- both in the audience and on the stage. Unlike taped shows, which can be edited when something goes wrong or a segment runs too long, the live broadcast forces everyone to be on their toes.

It's not like they're doing anything dangerous, but life is different at 11:30pm in New York than it is at five in the afternoon. Just one example: the later time could mean guests who have had a few drinks in the evening and show up in a much looser mood, leading to the kind of spontaneity that's so drastically missing from all modern late night shows.

It remains to be seen whether Colbert can harness that adrenaline rush into something positive. If so, don't be surprised if his "Late Show" becomes the first network late night show in decades to return to going live every night.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Best Thing I've Read Today

Dan Rather says if he had the opportunity to sit down with Donald Trump and Mike Pence (as Lesley Stahl did last night on "60 Minutes"), one of the questions he would ask is, "Do you believe in evolution?"

It is long past time that we inject science into the national debate. Perhaps one of the reasons why we haven't traditionally was that it never seemed so controversial. Now, sadly, it is. Pence has equivocated in the past on whether he believes in evolution, particularly in response to a tough, fair, and a bit incredulous line of questioning from my good friend Chris Matthews. We need to ask him again.

Science is central to so many of the issues facing this country, and when it comes to understanding life on earth everything begins with acknowledging evolution. We want leaders to come up with plans to fight diseases like Ebola and Zika, to protect us from bioterrorism, to promote agriculture, drug development, our biotech industries and so much more. We want to keep our place as the world leader in biomedical research - with all the economic advantages that has afforded us, not to mention the betterment of human life. The scientists who are going to help us do all this take evolution as a given. Much of their work doesn't make sense without it.

And after bearing down on evolution, I would ask Trump and Pence about climate change. If the best minds in the Pentagon are thinking about how a changing climate might very well lead to conflict, shouldn't we have a Commander in Chief who acknowledges reality?
Rather goes on to say he'd like to see an entire presidential debate devoted to science -- an idea I've supported for years. Read his full piece here.

Ghostbusters Related

Several people have told me they went to see the remake on my recommendation this weekend and really enjoyed it. Nice to hear, but the movie seems to have under-performed at the box office. Before its release, estimates were that it would make $50 million, but it came in around $46 million, finishing second to "The Secret Life Of Pets." But I think the new "Ghostbusters" will do well going forward based on word-of-mouth.

Ivan Reitman, who directed the original movie and gets an executive producer on the remake, did a short oral history on the making "Ghostbusters" for the Hollywood Reporter. Read it here.

The remake's release has led to several stories in various media outlets about "real-life ghostbusters." They're all bullshit. Yes, there are businesses that promise to get rid of ghosts in your house, but they're all con artists because there is no such thing as a ghost. But when you have some uninformed local TV reporter go out and follow them around, they're easily fooled -- just like anyone who watches the far-too-many ghost-hunter shows prevalent on some cable channels -- and no skeptical voice is ever included because it would kill the "fun" of believing in nonsense. That's how garbage information proliferates.

Movie Review: "The Infiltrator"

Bryan Cranston is on a remarkable run. After the finale of "Breaking Bad" in 2013, he went to Broadway and won a Tony in 2014 for playing LBJ in "All The Way" (which he reprised so brilliantly in the HBO version that he'll probably win an Emmy for it this fall, too). Then he was Oscar-nominated in 2015 for playing the title character in "Trumbo," and now he plays another real person in "The Infiltrator."

It's the story of Robert Mazur, an undercover federal officer who exposed money laundering by Pablo Escobar’s Colombian cocaine operation in the mid-1980s, sent dozens of men to prison, and caused the world's 7th-largest bank to collapse. Cranston inhabits the multiple layers of the role in the same way he did Walter White, and he gets good support from a cast that includes John Leguizamo, Amy Ryan, Olympia Dukakis, Benjamin Bratt, and the stunning Diane Kruger.

Like "Donnie Brasco," "The Infiltrator" shows what it’s like to be undercover, how you can never drop the act, the life-and-death situations Mazur found himself in, and the toll it takes on his wife and family.

I give "The Infiltrator" an 8 out of 10.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Emmy Snub

In the days since the Emmy nominations were announced, there have been umpteen pieces lamenting how neither "The Daily Show with Trevor Noah" nor "The Late Show With Stephen Colbert" were included in the best variety/talkshow category. The truth is, they didn't deserve nominations.

"The Daily Show" was a perennial favorite (and often winner) under Jon Stewart, but it's a different show under Noah -- and not for the better. Too many people, myself included, have given up watching/recording it altogether, and I can't remember the last time anything from that show went viral and made me want to look for it on YouTube.

As for Colbert, he was always a contender when he was doing "the character" on his old Comedy Central show. But without that facade, he seems lost, and his "Late Show" offers nothing that demands tuning in or checking later for good clips. I've been more amused by Seth Myers' "Late Night" than Colbert's nightly struggle to find his voice.

The real injustice in the Emmys variety/talk category was the exclusion of "Full Frontal With Samantha Bee," which is by far the most important and funniest topical news show since "Last Week Tonight With John Oliver." At first, I thought it might have been left out because it didn't air during the eligibility period for the Emmys. So I checked, and that time frame ended on May 31, 2016 -- long after Bee's show debuted at the beginning of February. Further checking revealed that Bee and her staff were nominated in a writing category, proof that the show did submit an entry in the competition.

In a year when Bee broke through not just with her content but with her gender, it's outrageous that the shows that were nominated in that category are all hosted by men (Fallon, Kimmel, Corden, Maher, Oliver). Even Jerry Seinfeld's praise-worthy "Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee," a web-only streaming show, got a nod -- but not Sam Bee's hysterical basic cable show.

Perhaps we need a new hashtag: #EmmysSoMale.

Other Emmys notes:

  • Speaking of oversights, how has Tatiana Maslany not won an Emmy yet for her starring role on "Orphan Black"? She's not just the lead actress on the BBC America series -- which my wife and I binge-watched via Amazon Prime this summer, and can't wait for the just-completed fourth season to start streaming -- she plays at least 9 different characters, all with different traits, voices, and looks. There are even scenes in which she's doing more than one of them at the same time, and others in which she's playing one of the characters who is imitating another one! It's the most remarkable acting demonstration I've seen on TV in a very long time.
  • I'm pulling for "Mythbusters" to get some love after its final season with a win in the "Structured Reality" category (how's that for a label).
  • I'd also like to see some appreciation shown by academy members for "Fargo" season 2 and "Better Call Saul," both of which were must-see TV in our house and received several nominations.
  • Both Courtney B. Vance (as Johnnie Cochran) and Cuba Gooding Jr. (as OJ Simpson) are nominated for Lead Actor In A Limited Series Or Movie for FX's "The People vs. OJ Simpson," but I hope they split the vote, leaving a path to victory for Bryan Cranston, so good as President Lyndon Baines Johnson in "All The Way" on HBO.
  • It's nice to see my "Mississippi Grind" co-star Ben Mendelsohn earning another Best Supporting Actor In A Drama Series nomination for his work on the Netflix series"Bloodline."

Movie Review: "Ghostbusters"

They did it.

The remake that so many people were so worried about turns out to be a pretty good movie. Any time you take on a classic, you run the risk of falling on your face, but director Paul Feig and his all-female Ghostbusters -- Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones -- can stand up proudly and say they did it right.

The new "Ghostbusters" isn't quite as snarky as the original, but it has plenty of wacky science, physical and verbal comedy, and special effects that weren't possible in 1984. It also has cameos by all the major actors from the original (Murray, Aykroyd, Hudson, Potts, Weaver). By their appearance, and Aykroyd's executive producer credit, it's clear they approve of what Feig has pulled off. The two missing from the original are Rick Moranis (who has either retired completely from acting or taken a job with Gozer The Traveler) and the late Harold Ramis, who gets a nice nod you should keep your eyes peeled for early on (his son Danny gets a bit part, too).

My wife said she felt a tinge of pride seeing four strong actresses running away with the plot, and she's right. Wiig and McCarthy are solid as the leads, Leslie Jones manages to overcome her stereotypical loud-black-woman-from-the-streets part, and Kate McKinnon is quite funny as the Ghostbuster who invents all the weapons they'll need for their battles against the special effects and slime. I'm a McKinnon fan, but there are times she overdoes it a bit -- or that may be me comparing her performance to the way Ramis underplayed Igon in the original.

The supporting cast includes Chris Hemsworth as the hunky-but-dumb secretary (a nice shot at all the movies with the airhead woman at the front desk), Andy Garcia as the mayor, Cecily Strong (overacting) as the mayor's assistant, Zach Woods (from HBO's "Silicon Valley") as the first character to encounter a ghost, Neil Casey as the villain who sets the plot in motion, plus Steve Higgins (from Jimmy Fallon's "Tonight Show"), Ed Begley Jr., and Matt Walsh.

At two hours, the new "Ghostbusters" is just a tad long, but you should stick around through all of the credits for the tag that sets up the inevitable sequel. I give it an 8.5 out of 10.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Showbiz Show 7/15/16

This week on the showbiz segment of my show, Colin Jeffrey and I reviewed the "Ghostbusters" remake and Bryan Cranston in "The Infiltrator." We also discussed the nominees the Emmy Awards missed, and the ones we think will win.

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

Harris Challenge 7/15/16

On this edition of my Harris Challenge -- the most fun you can have with your radio on -- the trivia categories include Mostly Female Movies, On This Day, and Sports & Games. Listen and play along, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Harris Challenges? Click here.

Knuckleheads In The News® 7/15/16

This edition of Knuckleheads In The News® includes stories about a Pokemon Go accident, an unsuccessful store robbery, and driving while praying. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Knuckleheads In The News®? Click here.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Political Hypocrites

If Donald Trump picks Newt Gingrich as his running mate later this week, I bet it won't be even a full day before Hillary Clinton's campaign releases a commercial showing all the times Gingrich said Trump would make a horrible president. You can also expect over the next few months for her campaign to run spots with similar remarks by other Trump-endorsing Republicans who've also gone hypocritical after warning against even considering him for the job during the primaries.

On the other side, Trump's communications people probably have a similar campaign ready to go with video of Bernie Sanders -- who endorsed her this week -- claiming she was unqualified for the job when he was running against her a few months ago. But that's politics.

And you wonder why so many Americans have such low regard for people in that profession?

Pokemon No

I've never been much of a video game guy. We've never had an XBox or PlayStation in our house. I haven't played Angry Birds or Fruit Ninja or any of the other billion-download games you can play on your phone. Even when online poker was legal in the US, I only played that sparingly. Okay, there was a time when I memorized the winning pattern for Pac-Man and got through almost all the levels. But I was 23 years old and still drinking a lot of beer.

So you won't see me walking around while staring at my phone as I play the game that's creating a ton of buzz this week, Pokemon Go.

I never pick up on fads -- mostly because by the time they reach me, the cool people who started the fad have already moved on to something else, but also because I couldn't care less what the new, popular thing is. I used to have to worry about that when I did a full-time radio show, which demanded that I at least check out the "hot" TV shows and movies and cultural trends so I could sound like I knew what I was talking when I referred to (or made fun of) them on the air.

The silliest thing I've seen about Pokemon Go is a warning many media outlets feel they must give consumers about how it's dangerous to walk around with your head down paying attention to nothing but your phone. Apparently, there have been people playing the game who have walked into traffic or trees or sign posts.

Do you really think issuing a warning is going to have any effect on those people? It's like the pre-July 4th announcements we get every year about being careful with fireworks (including the idiotic PSA a couple of weeks ago starring NFLer Jason Pierre Paul, who blew off his fingers last year when a device exploded in his hand). The only people who heed those warnings are the ones who weren't walking into traffic or lighting a cherry bomb in the living room in the first place. The others will only learn by experience, and I'm all for thinning the herd.

Here's how you know you can't reach those people. Arlington National Cemetery and The US Holocaust Memorial Museum have had to ask visitors not to walk around on their grounds hunting the virtual Pokemon Go characters. So has the Auschwitz Museum in Poland -- because the world still contains people who would stroll around the grounds of a former Nazi concentration camp while happily playing a video game.

If I ran any of those places, I'd show the game-playing visitors outside. And right into traffic.

DVR Alert

There's a new season of Penn and Teller's "Fool Us" starting tonight on The CW. Only difference will be Alyson Hannigan taking over hosting duties from Jonathan Ross.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Best Thing I've Read Today

Neil deGrasse Tyson remembers the times he was stopped and questioned by police officers, and the night he found out his experience was not out of the ordinary...

There was the time I was stopped late at night at an underpass on an empty road in New Jersey for having changed lanes without signaling. The officer told me to get out of my car and questioned me for ten minutes around back with the bright head lights of his squad car illuminating my face. Is this your car? Yes. Who is the woman in the passenger seat? My wife. Where are you coming from? My parents house. Where are you going? Home. What do you do for a living? I am an astrophysicist at Princeton University. What’s in your trunk? A spare tire, and a lot of other greasy junk. He went on to say that the “real reason” why he stopped me was because my car’s license plates were much newer and shinier than the 17-year old Ford that I was driving. The officer was just making sure that neither the car nor the plates were stolen.

In my other stories, I had been stopped by the police while transporting my home supply of physics textbooks into my newly assigned office in graduate school. They had stopped me at the entrance to the physics building where they asked accusatory questions about what I was doing. This one was complicated because a friend offered to drive me and my boxes to my office (I had not yet learned to drive). Her car was registered in her father’s name. It was 11:30 PM. Open-topped boxes of graduate math and physics textbooks filled the trunk. And we were transporting them into the building. I wonder how often that scenario shows up in police training tapes. In total, I was stopped two or three times by other security officers while entering physics buildings, but was never stopped entering the campus gym.

In that conference hotel room, we exchanged stories about the police for two more hours before retiring to our respective hotel rooms. Being mathematically literate, of course, we looked for “common denominators” among the stories. But we had all driven different cars—some were old, others were new, some were undistinguished, others were high performance imports. Some police stops were in the daytime, others were at night. Taken one-by-one, each encounter with the law could be explained as an isolated incident where, in modern times, we all must forfeit some freedoms to ensure a safer society for us all.

Taken collectively, however, you would think the cops had a vendetta against physicists because that was the only profile we all had in common. One thing was for sure, the stories were not singular, novel moments playfully recounted. They were common, recurring episodes. How could this assembly of highly educated scientists, each in possession of a PhD — the highest academic degree in the land — be so vulnerable to police inquiry in their lives? Maybe the police cued on something else. Maybe it was the color of our skin. The conference I had been attending was the 23rd meeting of the National Society of Black Physicists. We were guilty not of DWI (Driving While Intoxicated), but of other violations none of us knew were on the books: DWB (Driving While Black), WWB (Walking While Black), and of course, JBB (Just Being Black).
Read Tyson's full essay, from his 2004 book, "Dark Matters," here.

I'm Just Saying

On Friday, June 24th, after a majority of UK voters chose to leave the European Union, the US stock markets took a hit of a few percentage points. The following Monday, the indices dropped a little more. Financial pundits filled the airwaves with gloom and doom, telling us how much value was lost in retirement accounts and other investments and why you should consider moving your money out of stocks and into something else.

By Wednesday, June 29th, the markets had recovered most of their losses. Yesterday, those same indices hit record highs. From here, they may pull back a little bit, or they may go higher. I don't claim to be an expert -- as if anyone who predicts the numbers on a day-by-day or hour-by-hour basis is -- but I haven't seen any of those Chicken Littles who claimed the sky was falling after Brexit stand up to explain how wrong they were and why their advice means nothing.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Praise For The Chief

Dallas Police Chief David Brown gave a press conference today and showed what a great leader he is. This is the guy who has helped reduce the violent crime rate in his city to its lowest level in 50 years. He's accomplished that through community policing policies that should be a model for every other city in the country. They should all contact Brown -- after this calms down in Dallas -- and ask him how he's done what he's done.

Brown also emphasized how cops are burdened with too many responsibilities other than fighting crime, mostly because municipalities and states have cut taxes so much that they can't afford to offer mental health services, better schools, help for drug addiction, etc.

I also liked what Chief Brown said when asked about the man who was initially named a "person of interest" because he was marching in the Black Lives Matter parade Thursday night in Dallas with a long rifle slung over his shoulder -- which is legal because of the state's idiotic open carry law:

It’s a little different here in Texas in the way we view open carry, concealed carry. We’ve had great dialogue with our state legislators about this. We’ve expressed all of our concerns. We are trying as best as we can as a law enforcement community to make it work so the citizens can express their Second Amendment rights. But it’s increasingly challenging when people have AR-15s slung over and shootings occur in a crowd and they begin running, and we don’t know — or we don’t know if they’re the shooter or not, or they begin, it’s been the presumption that a good guy with a gun is the best way to resolve some of these things. Well, we don’t know who the good guy is versus who the bad guy is if everybody starts shooting, and we’ve expressed that concern as well.

How "The Sting" Got The Poker Wrong

"The Sting" is my all-time favorite movie. I've lost count of how often I've seen it, but it wasn't until I watched it again recently that I noticed some problems in the famous high-stakes poker scene on the train. There's nothing wrong with the acting, or the directing by George Roy Hill, but if there was a poker consultant on the movie, he wasn't doing his job.

I suppose I became more aware of gaffes like these after filming a small role in the movie "Mississippi Grind," where I play a big hand heads-up against Ben Mendelsohn. The directors, Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, had hired a local poker pro named Tony Howard to be their consultant on the look and feel of the game. He taught the actors how to play, made sure everyone on the set looked and acted like they were really playing poker, and ensured that the chips we used looked like they belonged in a real casino as opposed to someone's home game (e.g. black chip = $100, green chip = $25) and we got the denominations right when we bet (e.g. $500 = five black chips).

It's not the color of the chips in "The Sting" that bothers me, because they're playing on a train, so it's more like a home game than a casino cash game. There were enough other mistakes to catch my eye, though:

1) The players are constantly splashing the pot -- throwing their bets into the middle -- which can create confusion about how whether you actually put the correct amount in. In any real poker game, you would place your bet directly in front of you until all of the action was completed by the other players, and then everything would be collected into the pot in the middle.

2) One of Robert Shaw's henchmen is sitting directly behind Paul Newman, and two other players who are out of the game are behind his left shoulder. I know they're playing in a confined space, but no poker player wants anyone so close they might see your cards -- and in draw poker, you're going to look at your hand at least twice, increasing the opportunities for someone to see what you're holding. If you're in my game, your henchman (or wife or girlfriend or boyfriend or whoever) can sit close behind you, but not behind me.

3) In any kind of poker, when you raise, you have to bet enough to increase the previous bettor's action by that same amount. So, if I open the betting for $15, you can't raise it to $25 -- you have to make it at least $30. However, in an earlier hand in "The Sting" game (not the one above), after Shaw bets $500, Newman says "call and raise $300." No one objects, but that's against the rules.

4) Let's talk about that phrase, "call and raise." In any poker game, saying the word "call" is the same as saying "I will put in an amount equal to whatever the last bettor put in the pot." So, if I bet $15 and you say "call," you have to put in $15. You are not allowed to add "...and raise" followed by an additional amount. The word "call" limits you, no matter what you say afterwords. If you're going to raise, you either have to say "raise" (without "call") or simply put in the larger amount. In "The Sting," they violate this rule repeatedly.

Putting all of these together, here's where the climax of "The Sting" no-limit five-card draw poker scene (above) gets it wrong.

After two players have left the game, Newman and Shaw and Third Guy remain. They each start with a brown $100 chip as their ante. After they're dealt their cards (from the cold deck that Shaw has brought in to cheat Newman out of all of his chips), Newman opens for $500 by tossing in one yellow chip.

Shaw also tosses in a yellow chip but says, "Your $500 -- and $1,000" as he throws in another yellow chip. Not only is that a violation of the "call and raise" rule, but the denominations are wrong. He should throw in two more yellow chips, since they're each valued at $500.

Third guy folds, and Newman adds another yellow of his own, completing the pre-draw action.

Newman draws two cards and Shaw takes three. Newman is forced by the proximity of the other men to check his cards very close to his body, and we see he now has four 3's and the 6 of hearts. Shaw checks his cards -- as if he doesn't know what they'll be -- and we see he has four 9's and the 10 of spades.

Despite Shaw having raised, Newman opens for $500. Shaw again says, "Your $500 -- and $1,000." Newman replies, "Your $1,000. I'll raise you $2,000." At this point, they're splashing the pot like crazy, but at least the denominations are correct.

That's when Shaw puts in all the rest of his chips (blue and gray -- whatever they're worth) and says, "Your $2,000," before turning to the conductor who's serving as banker for the game and telling him, "Mr. Clemons, give me $10,000 more."

Okay, now we have to stop again. When this entire poker scene started (long before the clip above), as Newman sat down to play, he was informed that they were playing "table stakes." That means that you must only play with whatever you have in front of you, can't take any chips off the table at any time, and can't add more in the middle of the hand. But that's exactly what Shaw is doing.

There was a time when this was permitted. You've probably seen Westerns where, during a game in a saloon, someone puts up their watch, their horse and buggy, or their ranch after they've run out of chips. That's okay if you're playing "Western rules" (see the movie "A Big Hand For The Little Lady"), or if you're in a non-casino game where side bets are permitted -- but if you're told from the outset that you're playing "table stakes," then that should be adhered to. All director Hill and screenwriter David S. Ward had to do was take out the mention of "table stakes" earlier and we'd be fine here.

After Shaw puts in the additional $10,000 he's gotten from the conductor and Newman calls, Shaw shows his quad 9's with the 10 kicker. That's when Newman -- who has been trying to get under Shaw's skin the entire time for reasons that become obvious later -- slow-rolls him by pausing before revealing he doesn't have quad 3's. He shows him quad Jacks (with the same 6 of hearts kicker, by the way). He's cheated the cheater perfectly.

This will seem extremely nit-picky, I know, but consider how much attention Ward and Hill paid to every other detail of "The Sting." The long con that is the heart of plot is quite intricate, yet there's no element they get wrong in the planning, the sets, the casting, or anything else.

If only they'd gotten the poker right.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Patrick Stewart, Cowboy Singer

Several people who listened to my Harris Challenge on Friday wrote to ask whether the punishment music was really Patrick Stewart singing cowboy songs. Yes, it was.

It seems he did it as a joke, complete with a website where you could buy the collection on vinyl, cassette, or 8-track, all of which are sold out (because they never existed), but he does have a five-song sampler that he's offering for ten bucks to raise money for the International Rescue Committee. Here's his promotional video...

Saturday, July 09, 2016

A Very Bad Week

I spent much of my radio week discussing the shooting of civilians and cops in Louisiana, Minnesota, and Texas -- as well as right here in the St. Louis area, where an officer was ambushed and shot three times today by a felon he pulled over for speeding. As I write this, the suspect has been caught and the cop is fighting for his life after three hours in surgery.

After all of it, I don't have any answers, but I do know that if you're encouraging violence of any kind via social media, political statements, or as a radio or TV host, you are part of the problem. Frankly, I don't want to hear any of it, particularly the pronouncements of politicians who always say the same things after events like these ("we stand with fill in the blank city"), but never offer solutions. I'm also sure that blaming Black Lives Matter for what happened in Dallas and Ballwin is like blaming all law enforcement officers for what happened in Baton Rouge and Falcon Heights.

One of my listeners, Bob Vitter, wrote to say he'd heard several angry "pundits" blaming President Obama for a "war on police" during his administration. However, Bob sent me a link to this Daily Kos piece from last year, which shows that the numbers show exactly the opposite -- a decline in the number of officers who have been shot compared to each of the last three two-term presidencies...
If you look only at fatal shootings of police officers up to September of the seventh year during each of those administrations, the numbers are just as clear.
  • 576 police officers were shot and killed up to this date in the Reagan administration.
  • 528 during the Clinton administration.
  • 405 during the Bush administration.
  • 314 during the Obama administration.
In other words, 46% fewer police officers have been shot and killed in the first six-plus years of Barack Obama's presidency than were killed during Ronald Reagan's presidency in the same time frame. There is no war on police. This entire line is a complete fabrication of the conservative imagination, designed to pit people and parties against one another.
I'll note that those numbers do not include the last ten months, but even if they did, I doubt the comparisons would be much different. Count this as a thin piece of good news amid the chaos of the last few days.

Ed Gross on Star Trek's 50-Year Mission

Here's my conversation with Ed Gross, co-author (with Mark Altman) of “The Fifty Year Mission: The Complete, Uncensored, Unauthorized Oral History of Star Trek." It's a two-part project, starting with a volume covering the first 25 years, so that's what we talked about, including:
  • Why is "Star Trek" still a thing a half-century later?
  • What was it like when you attended the first "Star Trek" convention?
  • Did JJ Abrams save the franchise with his movie reboots?
  • What’s the next movie, “Star Trek Beyond,” about?
  • How is Lucille Ball responsible for "Star Trek" getting made?
  • Does anyone involved in the original show look back at it as cheesy?
  • Is it true Gene Roddenberry was given less money each year to make the show?
  • What was the off-screen relationship between William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy?
  • When they killed Spock at the end of "Wrath Of Khan," did they have a plan for "The Search for Spock"?
  • Was "The Voyage Home" the most successful of the original movies because it had a sense of humor?
Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Showbiz Show 7/8/16

This week on the showbiz segment of my show, Colin Jeffrey and I reviewed "The Secret Life Of Pets" and "The Music Of Strangers." We also discussed Ron Howard's Beatles documentary and the new HBO series, "The Night Of," which debuts this Sunday.

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

Harris Challenge 7/8/16

On this edition of my Harris Challenge -- the most fun you can have with your radio on -- the trivia categories include Movies About Animals, Musical Memories, 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® 7/8/16

This edition of Knuckleheads In The News® includes stories about a pubic hair dress, an ambulance accident, and another thief who left his ID behind. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Knuckleheads In The News®? Click here.

Thursday, July 07, 2016

Best Thing I've Read Today

Ken Levine on the epidemic of standing ovations in the theater, as if every performance of every show is spectacular:

This seems to be the pattern. Show ends. Actors take their curtain call. Half the audience leaps to its feet. Another quarter sees this, wasn’t going to but decide what the hell? They rise. The rest now figure, shit, we don’t want to look like assholes, so they join the adulation. I think for a standing ovation to mean anything today, at least 80% must jump up at once. Anything less doesn’t count.

I feel bad now for actors when they only receive loud thunderous applause. That must be devastating to them.

Is this just an outgrowth of the Millennial generation where everyone got trophies for everything?
Read Levine's full piece here.

Steve Binder, "Fade Up: The Movers and Shakers of Variety TV"

Here's my conversation with Steve Binder, one of the most respected director/producers of variety television in history. He won an Emmy Award for a 1977 Barry Manilow special, a Cable Ace Award for Diana Ross in Central Park (1984), produced and directed Elvis Presley's 1968 comeback special, and worked with Steve Allen, Chevy Chase, Patti LaBelle, Wayne Newton, Mac Davis, Liza Minnelli, Petula Clark, and Pee-Wee Herman. He's now co-author of a book (with Mary Beth Leidman) about the history of that genre, "Fade Up 26: The Movers and Shakers of Variety Television."

We discussed his work on one of the greatest filmed concerts of all time, "The T.A.M.I. Show" (1964), with Chuck Berry, The Supremes, Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye, Lesley Gore, Jan and Dean, The Beach Boys, James Brown, and The Rolling Stones -- the latter had just come to America and were making their first appearance in front of cameras. We also talked about how he got around Colonel Tom Parker and dealt directly with Elvis on his TV special, even so far as explaining that his career was in the toilet -- and to illustrate that, took him out on the street, where no one recognized Presley.

Binder -- who has worked in the format since he started with Steve Allen -- also explained the impact directors like him have on various variety projects, and what went wrong with Chevy Chase's short-lived late-night talk show, which he executive-produced in 1993.

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

An Oral History of "Die Hard"

Here's my conversation with Brian Abrams, author of the oral history of one of the great action movies, "Die Hard." Among the questions I asked him:
  • How was Bruce Willis cast as John McClane?
  • Was it hard for him, as a TV star ("Moonlighting") to get the lead in an action movie?
  • Who else was up for the role?
  • Is it true that John McClane died in the original book?
  • Was that real fear on Alan Rickman's face during his final fatal fall?
  • What about the other villains, reporter Richard Thornburg and Deputy Police Chief Dwayne Robinson?
Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Brian Abrams' "Die Hard: An Oral History" is available from Amazon as a Kindle Single. Abrams also wrote oral histories of Gawker and "Late Night With David Letterman."

The Square Circle

This completely freaked me out.

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

Lying Is A Prerequisite

I can't help but laugh when I hear Republicans screaming that Hillary Clinton lied about this or that regarding her emails. First of all, with Donald Trump as your candidate, you can't take the high road about anyone's lying -- the man is putting up pants-on-fire numbers that may never be eclipsed.

Second of all, if you really expect any professional politician to be the epitome of truthfulness, you've forgotten some presidential history:

  • Lyndon Johnson lied to us about the Gulf Of Tonkin resolution that caused an escalation of the Vietnam War that led to the death of over 50,000 young Americans whose names are now carved into the granite in their memorial in Washington, DC (not to mention an unknown number of Vietnamese).
  • George W. Bush lied to us about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, which led to his dragging us into a war we should never have fought and, yes, the death of thousands of young Americans and untold numbers of Iraqis.
  • Ronald Reagan lied to us about Iran-Contra.
  • Bill Clinton lied when he said he didn't have sex with that woman.
  • I'm pretty sure George Washington lied about that damned cherry tree.
Now explain again how Hillary's lies make her unqualified to be President. Sounds like a prerequisite to me.

Jennifer Keishin Armstrong, "Seinfeldia"

Here's my conversation with Jennifer Keishin Armstrong about her book, "Seinfeldia: How A Show About Nothing Changed Everything." Among the questions I asked her:
  • What's the story behind George's save-the-whale speech, which generated the biggest laugh in the show's history?
  • Who was the inspiration for Elaine's awkward dance moves?
  • How did NBC feel about Larry David having no prior experience running a TV show?
  • What was so different about the first script the actors got from David and Seinfeld?
  • Who else tried out for the lead roles?
  • What was Bob Hope's role in "Seinfeld" getting on the air?
Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Makower and Mykleby's New Grand Strategy

Here's my conversation with Joel Makower and Mark Mykleby about their book, "The New Grand Strategy: Restoring America's Prosperity, Security, and Sustainability in the 21st Century." We talked about how unsustainability is a global problem, how long it's been since we had any kind of Grand Strategy, and how business is leading the way because Washington can't and won't. On that latter point, we discussed companies like Subaru that operate factories with zero waste, and how the economics of business often lead to greener solutions.

Joel Makower is an old friend who runs GreenBiz Group. Mark "Puck" Mykleby is a retired Marine colonel and co-director of the Strategic Innovation Lab at Case Western Reserve University.

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

Previously on Harris Online...