From the people who brought you "The Producers"...
Monday, February 29, 2016
Sunday, February 28, 2016
- Surprised but thrilled that "Spotlight" won Best Picture. Along with "Inside Out," that means both of my Best Of 2015 won Oscars tonight.
- Here's the original Boston Globe Spotlight story about pedophile priests that was portrayed in the Best Picture.
- The picks I got right (six out of eight): Best Actress Brie Larson, Best Actor Leonardo DiCaprio, Best Supporting Actress Alicia Vikander, Best Animated Feature "Inside Out," Best Adapted Screenplay "The Big Short," Best Original Screenplay "Spotlight."
- Maybe now, some women will notice Leonardo DiCaprio after years of ignoring him because of his looks.
- Based on his poise and professionalism at multiple awards shows, I bet there are lotsa Hollywooders who can't wait to work with Jacob Tremblay.
- Um, no Abe Vigoda in the In Memoriam tribute at The Oscars? It was only business. [several people have emailed me to say that Vigoda was left out because he died in 2016 -- but so did Alan Rickman, who was included]
- Please, Academy, let Louis CK host the Oscars next year! So comfortable, so clever, best presenter tonight.
- My first incorrect Oscars prediction (Mark Rylance for the win in "Bridge Of Spies") coincided with Sly Stallone's last-ever chance to win one.
- My wife: "Bruce Vilanch did costume design for Mad Max?"
The day after "Spotlight" wins a bunch of Independent Spirit Awards (and is up for several Oscars tonight), CNN's Brian Stelter offers a compelling Q and A with the real-life journalists the movie is based on.
And how do you get treated in Hollywood when you're one of those journalists? The good news is you get to go to the Academy Awards; the bad news is you're seated in the last row of the third mezzanine (Matt Carroll, one of the "Spotlight" journalists, tweeted this picture of his tickets).
My friend Mark Evanier is frustrated by the non-stop din of pundits who are sure they know what's going to happen in the presidential election, but offer little evidence to back up their words, and don't explain how the electoral math will work:
I'm also getting e-mails from folks linking me to articles saying Hillary is certain to beat Donald or that Donald is certain to beat Hillary. Most of the latter seem to have been written by pundits who, 48 hours before the polls closed in 2012 were confidently predicting a Romney landslide. It seems that though they got that wrong two days before that election, they've become infallible 253 days ahead of Election Day. And that's without knowing who the running mates will be, who'll win the debates, what additional stances and promises we'll hear from the nominees, what new scandals will emerge, what stupid things each of them will say, etc.Read Mark's full piece here.
I'm unimpressed by predictions that are unaccompanied by maps or lists that break down each candidate's chances in each state and how many electoral votes each could win. In fact, I think those are the only forecasts that have any value at all. You want to convince me your guy or gal will be sworn in next Inauguration Day? Break out the electoral map and tell me which states he or she will win…and don't kid yourself or me. The G.O.P. nominee ain't gonna lose Texas or Utah and the Democratic candidate has New York and California for sure.
In case you haven't listened to my Showbiz Show podcast, here are my predictions for the Oscars tonight...
- Best Picture: "The Revenant" will win, but "Spotlight" should win.
- Best Director: because the Academy gave it to Alejandro Innaritu for "Birdman" last year, I'll take George Miller ("Mad Max: Fury Road") in an upset.
- Best Actress: Brie Larson, whose performance in "Room" was stunningly good.
- Best Actor: Leonardo DiCaprio in "The Revenant," to make up for his previous losses. I'd have chosen Matt Damon in "The Martian."
- Best Supporting Actress: Alicia Vikander in "The Danish Girl." I didn't see it, but she was in one of my Worst Movies Of 2015, "Ex Machina." The only performance in this category I liked was Rachel McAdams in "Spotlight."
- Best Supporting Actor: Sylvester Stallone in "Creed." Lock of the night. He's as surprised as you are.
- Best Animated Feature Film: Pixar's "Inside Out," which I chose as the Best Picture Of 2015. It should have been nominated for the big prize, too.
- Best Adapted Screenplay: Adam McKay and Charles Randolph for "The Big Short." When I read Michael Lewis' book, I had no idea how it could be turned into a movie, but they did it brilliantly.
- Best Original Screenplay: Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer for "Spotlight." They captured the best aspects of journalism and the damage done by the Catholic Church to thousands of victims of pedophile priests in a compelling script that still resonates months after I saw it.
- The over/under on how long it will take Chris Rock to make a reference to the lack of African-American nominees in the acting categories: 30 seconds.
- Chances that having the obligatory family-and-agents list scrolling on screen will keep winners from thanking them verbally: zero.
- Category with winner most likely to be forced offstage by music crescendo during speech that's gone on too long: Best Documentary Short.
- Number of friends and acquaintances who have jokingly asked me whether I'm nominated for my scene in "Mississippi Grind": one hundred. I'm putting every one of them on my thank-you scroll.
Saturday, February 27, 2016
We have discussed several aspects of that classic sitcom before, but this is the first time we've dedicated our entire conversation to it, and my challenge was to come up with questions I'd never asked him before. It wasn't that hard, because I've seen every episode many times -- and own them all in pretty much every format, from VHS to single DVDs to boxed sets -- and am proud to say I turned my daughter into a "Dick Van Dyke Show" fan, too.
Here are the topics we touched on in this conversation:
- How Rose Marie's ego created a problem in the first season;
- Who came up with one of my favorite bits of physical comedy on the show, involving Dick and a hat;
- Whether Carl finally brought in other writers because he was burning out from writing every script
- Why he started including song and dance numbers in several episodes;
- Why Joe Kennedy (JFK's father) had to approve his pilot script;
- Whether Morey Amsterdam added jokes and Dick Van Dyke added physical shtick to his scripts;
- Whether he ever had trouble with the sponsors, and how few commercials ran during the show;
- Who was his character, Alan Brady, based on?
- Why Carl decided to end the show after a five-year run.
Previously on Harris Online...
- My conversation with Carl Reiner about his book "What I Forgot To Remember" (5/16/15)
- My conversation with Carl Reiner about his book "I Just Remembered" (5/19/14)
- My conversation with Carl Reiner about his previous memoir, "I Remember Me" (2/9/13)
- My conversation with Carl Reiner about "Ocean's Thirteen" (6/12/07)
- My conversation with Carl Reiner about more "Dick Van Dyke Show" stories (5/10/04)
- My conversation with Carl Reiner about "Ocean's Eleven" and Johnny Carson (4/25/03)
- My conversation with Vince Waldron, author of "The Official Dick Van Dyke Show Book" (9/29/11)
This week on the showbiz segment of my show, Colin Jeffrey and I reviewed "Eddie The Eagle," "Triple 9," and "Where To Invade Next." We also made our Oscars predictions. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!
On this edition of my Harris Challenge -- the most fun you can have with your radio on -- the trivia categories include Leap This, Oscar Oscar Oscar, and You Call That The Best Picture?. Listen and play along, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!
This edition of Knuckleheads In The News® includes stories about a man's odd name change, a president for sale, and a high school hoax. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!
Last April, I raved about "Beautiful," the Broadway show about the life and career of singer/songwriter Carole King, and recommended you see it if you get to New York. Well, now you don't have to, because the bus-and-truck national tour of "Beautiful" has come to St. Louis, where it plays through March 6th (get tickets here). Since my wife wasn't with me on the New York trip, I took her to opening night at the Fox Theater, and I'm happy to report that this production is just as good as the original.
The lead role is played by Abby Mueller (whose sister Jessie won a Tony for originating it on Broadway) with a strong voice, the right amount of empathy in the dramatic parts, and very good comic timing in others. The rest of the cast matches her song for song, especially those who play Gerry Goffin, Cynthia Weil, and Barry Mann.
As jukebox musicals go, "Beautiful" is much better than "Jersey Boys" -- and one of only a few centered around a female lead character -- so I'm happy to see it touring North America and with a production in London, too. With singalong-ready songs like "It's Too Late," "I Feel The Earth Move," "A Natural Woman," and "Locomotion" (not to mention hits by The Drifters and The Shirelles), I bet it runs for a long time.
Friday, February 26, 2016
Remember when the Republican candidates, at their first debate, raised their hands and pledged to support the party's nominee, no matter who it is? With all the name-calling ("liar," "con man," etc) going on between Trump, Cruz, and Rubio, do you think that promise is still in effect? How two-faced will they seem if, after all the viciousness, they line up behind someone they obviously detest and believe is dangerous for the country? And if they don't, what does that say about their pledge?
Thursday, February 25, 2016
Wednesday, February 24, 2016
Larry Schwartz lists 25 things you've heard your entire life were "facts," but aren't really true. For instance: frogs give you warts, sugar makes kids hyperactive, bats are blind, lightning never strikes the same place twice, and you should drink eight glasses of water a day. Schwartz says they're all false.
It's the work of very clever editor Tyler Hopkins, who used clips from "Back to the Future," "My Favorite Martian," "Camp Nowhere," "Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead," "Dennis the Menace," "Zero Dark Thirty," "Argo," "The Sum of All Fears," "Syriana," "Iron Man," "Dazed and Confused," and "Munich."
Hopkins is also the guy who turned "Pulp Fiction" into a 1970s-style sitcom promo.
Tuesday, February 23, 2016
Caroline Paul, a professional firefighter, says we have to stop teaching girls to be afraid:
When a girl learns that the chance of skinning her knee is an acceptable reason not to attempt the fire pole, she learns to avoid activities outside her comfort zone. Soon many situations are considered too scary, when in fact they are simply exhilarating and unknown. Fear becomes a go-to feminine trait, something girls are expected to feel and express at will. By the time a girl reaches her tweens no one bats an eye when she screams at the sight of an insect.Read Paul's full piece here.
When girls become women, this fear manifests as deference and timid decision making. We try to counter this conditioning by urging ourselves to “lean in.” Books on female empowerment proliferate on our shelves. I admire what these writers are trying to do — but they come far too late.
We must chuck the insidious language of fear (Be careful! That’s too scary!) and instead use the same terms we offer boys, of bravery and resilience. We need to embolden girls to master skills that at first appear difficult, even dangerous. And it’s not cute when a 10-year-old girl screeches, “I’m too scared.”
posted at 1:00 AM
Here's a good piece from Mental Floss about how 10 iconic movie sounds were made. At the bottom of the list is The Wilhelm Scream, which has been heard in dozens of movies. There are also details on how the audio of the "Star Wars" light sabers, the "Indiana Jones" rolling boulder, and the stabbing of Janet Leigh in "Psycho" were created. My favorite is the description from "Terminator 2"...
In Terminator 2: Judgment Day, the T-1000 phases through jail bars to try to capture the T-800, Sarah Connor, and her son John at the mental institution. Sound designer Gary Rydstrom revealed that he came up with a very cost effective way that involved a lot of dog food slowly being sucked out of cans. “What’s amazing to me is the combination of Industrial Light and Magic using millions of dollars of high-tech digital equipment and computers to come up with the visuals, and meanwhile I’m inverting a dog food can,” Rydstrom said.Listen for it:
Monday, February 22, 2016
It's very hard to make a show with a lot of likable characters, but until recently, I'd never seen a show with no likable characters. Unfortunately, Martin Scorcese's "Vinyl" and Louis CK's "Horace and Pete" both fit the latter category, and that's why I've given up on them after just two episodes.
"Horace and Pete" is a project Louis is making himself. He writes, stars, directs, and distributes each episode on his own website. It's a drama about two guys who own a dive bar in Brooklyn, and it has a terrific cast including Steve Buscemi, Alan Alda, Edie Falco, Jessica Lange, and Steven Wright. The problem is that Louis has written it as heavy drama with very few laughs and characters that evoke no empathy from the viewer.
When I watched his first episode, I thought it was going to be a self-contained show, but there was no denouement. When episode two rolled around, there still was no resolution to anything, just a bunch of new supporting roles thrown in around the slow-moving plots of the main characters.
It can be a very good thing when creative people stretch their comfort zones and try new things. We know Louis can do drama -- witness his acting chops in "Trumbo" and "American Hustle" -- but he lays it on so heavy in "Horace and Pete," that it makes me wish he'd go back to devoting time to the mixture of comedy and drama he used in his FX series, "Louie," which is on hiatus while he tries this new path.
Since Louis is handling distribution, he's charging for downloads of each episode. I coughed up $5 for the first one and $2 for the second, but won't give him the $3 apiece he's charging going forward. In retrospect, he would have been better off making a deal with Netflix or Amazon Prime. As a subscriber to those services, it doesn't cost me anything extra to try a couple of episodes of something new, then decide whether or not I like it and want to continue. But when a series hasn't grabbed me after two shows, I'm done with it -- especially if it will cost me more to see whether it redeems itself later on.
Since "Vinyl," a new series from Scorcese and Terence Winter (who last teamed up on "Boardwalk Empire") is on HBO, it wouldn't cost me more to see future episodes, but its first two have been very uneven and unimpressive. Again, it's not the cast's fault. Ray Romano, Juno Temple, and Olivia Wilde are all good, but it seems like star Bobby Canavale and others (e.g. Max Casella) have been instructed to chew up as much scenery as possible -- everything they do is way over the top.
Moreover, I find the whole texture of the series off-putting. It centers around the rock and roll scene in New York in the early 1970s, just before the punk movement launched. But for the 99% of us who weren't there -- and couldn't care less about the influence of Andy Warhol -- there's very little to relate to in "Vinyl." In previous Scorcese projects, we may have detested the protagonists -- think "Goodfellas" -- but still pulled for them in a twisted way. That's not the case for any of the characters in "Vinyl." Canavale's record company owner is a coked-up jerk, his co-workers aren't much better, and over the course of its first three hours, we've yet to be exposed to anyone with any redeeming qualities whatsoever.
Though the soundtrack is full of the standard issue classic rock deep cuts that typify any Scorcese project (the music licensing fees for this show must be enormous), it's clear that no one involved in "Vinyl" actually knows much about the record promotion business -- or music radio, for that matter. There was a ridiculous plot in the first episode with Andrew Dice Clay, as the owner of a chain of fourteen radio stations, who was in a fury over some perceived slight by the record company and Donny Osmond (!) which caused him to threaten to banish all of that label's music from his airwaves. That would never have happened. Considering Mick Jagger is co-executive producer of "Vinyl," you'd think he might know what a farce that plot point was -- but you'd be wrong.
Watching "Vinyl" might not cost me any more money, but it's a waste of my time and brain cells, so I'm done with it.
I don't know what I was expecting from last night's NBC tribute to James Burrows -- who has directed 1,000 episodes of TV sitcoms including "Taxi," "Friends," "Cheers," "Frasier," and "The Big Bang Theory" -- but I was still disappointed. Some of the clips from those classic shows do hold up, but the interviews of each series' stars by Andy Cohen and Jane Lynch were painful. And the cutaways to other stars in the audience laughing hysterically reminded me of the old Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts, which were so heavily edited you were never sure if the laughter came from a glib remark someone just made or something that happened much earlier in the taping.
I also couldn't help wondering what the writers and showrunners of those series thought about their success essentially being credited to Burrows. Yes, he may have the golden touch as a director, and may work well with actors, but I'm sure that David Krane and Marla Kauffman were more responsible for "Friends" being a mega-hit, just as Bill Prady and Chuck Lorre deserve more credit for "The Big Bang Theory" -- and on and on.
The NBC special made it seem like James Burrows was the sole creative visionary behind every sitcom he ever worked on. I'm sure he doesn't believe that, but I'd bet that if Burrows had been in charge of producing and directing his own tribute, it would have been much better.
Sunday, February 21, 2016
Last week, I posted an open letter to Mark Frissora, CEO of Caesars Entertainment, about the disappointing experience I had at that company's Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas. A few days later, I received an email from Christine (who has the title of Total Service Manager for Caesars), which read:
Hello Mr. Harris,She then explained how I can take advantage of that offer, and concluded:
I appreciate the time you took to detail your recent experience at the Flamingo. I'm sorry that the Flamingo did not live up to the expectations the brand has created over its storied history. We know how much customers like you look forward to visiting Las Vegas and we are committed to providing an environment that makes it enjoyable for everyone. We are always concerned when one of our customers did not completely enjoy their visit, especially on a return visit.
I was disheartened to read that you left our establishment with such dismay due to multiple disappointing experiences. Our property is older; however, should never lack cleanliness and maintenance. Please accept my most sincere apology.
We have just completed a few projects such as replacing the carpets in the hallways and casino. We are current working on an elevator project which is scheduled to be completed by early 2017. As we prepare for future enhancements, our Senior Leaders will be evaluating each item you mentioned. I can assure you the Flamingo remains an integral part of our plans for the future.
We would not want this disappointing experience to be your last impression of our company. We would love the opportunity to show you that we truly care about your satisfaction. To incent your return, I would like to offer you two complimentary room nights at Caesars Palace to replace your last experience with a better one!
Mr. Harris, I do hope this note offers some reassurance that Caesars Entertainment views the Flamingo as a priority for our own future and our customers. Thank you again for contacting us and providing your feedback; it is always customers like yourself that provide the very best ideas for how we can improve future experiences.Aside from using the non-existent verb "incent," I was satisfied with Christine's reply. I know that when you're in the customer service end of a company, you rarely get praise and thanks from your customers. Ninety-nine percent of the time, someone is complaining about something, and it's your job to soothe their anger and convince them to continue doing business with you. Christine mostly accomplished that.
I was never so upset with the Caesar's corporation that I'd avoid all of their properties from now on. As I wrote in my original letter, I won't return to the Flamingo -- and wouldn't recommend you go there, either -- but I do hope they fix it up to the B-level status it used to hold on the Vegas strip. That's a tall order considering its current F-level status.
Meanwhile, later this year I'll take her up on the offer of a free room at the Caesar's Palace, which I hope will be more satisfactory.
Saturday, February 20, 2016
This week on the showbiz segment of my show, Colin Jeffrey reviewed the Jesse Owens biopic "Race." Then we talked about the NBC special honoring sitcom directing legend James Burrows, why I've already given up on FX's OJ Simpson series, and why news networks should do what comedy shows (e.g. Samantha Bee's "Full Frontal" and John Oliver's "Last Week Tonight") do with claims by politicians. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!
On this edition of my Harris Challenge -- the most fun you can have with your radio on -- the trivia categories include Famous Sisters, Famous Brothers, and It's Just Business. Listen and play along, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!
This edition of Knuckleheads In The News® includes stories about an unreturned wallet, a "Walking Dead" police report, and a mayor's online error. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!
Friday, February 19, 2016
Thursday, February 18, 2016
While in Las Vegas last week, on the recommendation of my friend Andy Newman, I went to see a show called Absinthe.
In much the same way that Cirque du Soleil updated the circus concept from the stodgy old Ringling Brothers version, Absinthe takes it to another level. The show takes place in front of Caesar's Palace, in a tent that holds about 600 people. Everyone is very close to the action, which is performed in the round on a stage that's no more than ten feet in diameter.
The acts are remarkable. Some of the acrobats use props -- like the opener, who builds and ascends a tower made of chairs taken from audience members -- while others have nothing onstage but their talent. There's a roller-skating couple whirling around on that small stage while he holds her by the legs or arms or neck, her head coming so close to the floor you can't help but gasp. There's a high-wire act with two guys and a woman who's a seventh-generation Wallenda. And there's no safety net anywhere.
Since this is Vegas, there's some sexuality built into many of the acts, with performers wearing very little clothing (both male and female), including a stunning female duo who do a trapeze-like routine on some suspended bars...
Another act is Sean and John, twins who comprise the best tap-dancing team I've seen since Maurice and Gregory Hines. They even finish in splits a la their heroes, Fayard and Harold Nicholas (I posted their Best Dance Routine Ever as a Picture Of The Day a few years ago).
Andy warned me that the emcee, called The Gazillionaire, and his sidekick, Penny, do some of the most politically incorrect material imaginable, and he was right. They make fun of random audience members' race, ethnicity, sexuality, and anything else they can poke fun at.
On the night I was there, The Gazillionaire spotted some Republican-looking attendees in front-row seats and comforted them by promising there were no black people sitting nearby. When he spotted an African-American man a few seats away, he reassured the Republicans because he was there with a white woman -- to which Penny added, "They're gonna make a new president tonight." Then The Gazillionaire pointed out another black guy a few rows away who was with an Asian woman, and Penny remarked, "They're gonna make a new pro golfer tonight!"
I've cleaned up the actual verbiage they used. Suffice it to say that The Gazillionaire and Penny use language you'd never hear at a Cirque show, including one monologue she does about female genitalia which makes clear why you have to be at least 18 to get in. If you're easily offended, or expect trigger warnings before you're exposed to something like this, do not go anywhere near Absinthe. But if you can let that stuff -- much of it very funny -- roll off your back while you sit back and watch people sacrificing their bodies for your enjoyment, you'll have a great time inside that tent.
One final note: when you're in Vegas, if you walk around the area near the Absinthe box office during the day, you'll often find someone handing out discount coupons to the show. I used one to save $20 off a $109 ticket that put me in the fourth row.
Wednesday, February 17, 2016
This is some of the best analysis I've heard of the impact of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia's death. My guest is Kate Shaw, Cardozo Law School professor, formerly of the White House Counsel's office, and former law clerk to Justice John Paul Stephens. Leaving aside the political posturing over whether the Senate will even consider President Obama's appointee, Shaw explained:
- How long can The Court operate with only eight justices?
- What impact will Scalia's death have on cases already decided, and those still to come?
- What does this mean for Obama's immigration and climate change policies?
- What about Roe v. Wade and gun control?
- Will The Court have to rule on Ted Cruz's eligibility to become president, and when?
- In her time at The Court, did Justices work personally to change the minds of other Justices?
- Who are the most likely candidates President Obama might appoint to take Scalia's seat?
Here's my conversation with financial journalist Jane Bryant Quinn about her new book, "How To Make Your Money Last: The Indispensable Retirement Guide." Among the topics we covered:
- How the social security rules have changed in recent months;
- How much you can afford to spend in retirement without running out of money;
- How to react to big stock market drops like we've seen this year;
- Whether you need life insurance and long-term care insurance after you retire;
- When you should start downsizing your lifestyle and expenses in retirement;
- What pre-retirees should be doing with their money to save for the future.
What do "Laverne and Shirley," "Mork and Mindy," "Taxi," "Cheers," "Newhart," "Night Court," "Home Improvement," and "Friends" have in common? Yes, they were all sitcoms, but they also all had Bob Perlow as their audience warmup guy. He's written about his career in the TV comedy bleachers in a new book, "The Warmup Guy," and when he joined me to talk about it, I asked him:
- Why do sitcoms need a warmup guy?
- Did you do these shows for just a few weeks at a time or several seasons?
- Have sitcoms always had someone doing that job?
- What made you so good at it, and what did you do that was different?
- Did you ever ask the producers to let you work in front of the cameras in a guest role?
- Did the actors ever argue or make fools of themselves in front of the audience?
- Who were the most pleasant and unpleasant TV stars you worked with?
The CNBC show "The Profit" wrapped up its fourth season last night and my guest, Reality Blurred's Andy Dehnart, says it was the series' best. We talked about star Marcus Lemonis, the mom-and-pop businesses he invests in, and how they're showcased on the show -- including those who are obviously using him for nothing more than publicity purposes. We also discussed the show's spinoff, "The Partner," which will debut later this year, and how Lemonis is able to juggle all the companies he's invested in.
Then I changed the topic to the new season of "Survivor," which debuts tonight on CBS, and I asked Andy why he hates "The Amazing Race." Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!
Here's my conversation with James Walsh, who spent two years as an undercover union organizer at casinos in Miami, and writes about the experience in "Playing Against The House." I asked him about:
- Being a double agent, keeping union organizing secret while not telling anyone he was writing about it.
- The reaction of his fellow casino employees to the idea of joining a union.
- The tactics management used to keep the union from organizing in the casinos.
- Whether he found a Norma Rae among his colleagues.
- What kind of training he was given by the outside union organizers who helped him get inside.
- Whether people lost their jobs because of his efforts, despite laws against that.
- Why union membership has dropped to single digit percentages in the US.
Tuesday, February 16, 2016
Monday, February 15, 2016
Tim English has spent years studying stolen melodies and ripped-off riffs, which he has compiled in a wonderful book called "Sounds Like Teen Spirit."
On my show, we discussed famous cases like Marvin Gaye's family suing Robin Thicke over "Blurred Lines," Tom Petty going after Sam Smith because "Stay With Me" sounded too much like "I Won't Back Down," and others. Tim says the group with the worst record of plagiarizing other people's music is Led Zeppelin, so we played samples of three of their most iconic songs and the originals they were taken from. I played an example of a musician who plagiarized himself: Steve Miller, and we revealed ripped-off riffs by Coldplay, John Lennon, and Bob Marley (who seems to be echoing a classic kids TV theme).
Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!
Here's my conversation with Jon Hein about his book, "Fast Food Maniac." We talked about his visits to some of the original fast food outlets and their headquarters, the secret menus that many of them offer, why he has so much respect for Dave Thomas, and which singular fast food item he considers the most overrated. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!
Here's my conversation with Tom Cotter about his book, "Bad Dad: A Guide To Pitiful Parenting." You may know Tom as the guy who finished second on "America's Got Talent" to a group of dogs. I asked him about that, and we covered various aspects of fatherhood, too. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!
Sunday, February 14, 2016
By definition, hasn’t every president become a lame duck at his second inaugural? Are they supposed to do nothing till a new president takes over?
If that’s the case, should every senator and representative not running for re-election recuse themselves from votes as lame ducks, too?
An open letter to Mark Frissora, CEO of Caesars Entertainment:
On a recent trip to Las Vegas, I stayed at your Flamingo Hotel because, as a Total Rewards member, Caesars offered me two free nights. I had stayed at the Flamingo several years ago and, while not a luxury hotel like Bellagio or Aria, it was a decent mid-strip place to stay. The rooms were clean, the coffee shop was good, and the employees were nice. But on my return, I discovered how run down the Flamingo has become.
The trouble started before I even arrived. That morning, I received an email allowing me to check-in online, but when I tried to use that portal, it refused to recognize my home address despite several attempts.
When I got to the Flamingo, I was happy to see a row of self-check-in kiosks, but when I tried one, it told me repeatedly that it couldn't process my driver's license. The woman on my left and the man on my right were having the same frustration with their kiosks. After my tenth attempt, I muttered and walked over to join the long line of people waiting to check in at the front desk with a human staff member.
Twenty minutes later, I was given a key to a room in the oldest tower in the Flamingo. I dragged my suitcase to the bank of elevators, where again a large group of people was waiting. It turned out that not all of the elevators were operating that day, causing a backup in the lobby. I counted eight elevator doors -- why weren't they all carrying passengers upstairs? Moreover, the "up" button on one side didn't call elevators on the other side, so the other "up" button had to be pressed, too. What century is this?
When I was finally able to get into an elevator, I observed that the numbers for some of the floors had either been rubbed off or had fallen off. Instead of being replaced, someone had painted in the numbers with what looked like Wite-Out. Combined with the scratches and dents in the walls and doors, one word came to mind: Classy!
When I finally arrived at my assigned room, the first thing I did was check to make sure that the drapes closed all the way -- essential in any Las Vegas hotel room since most of us are going to sleep well past sunrise. Nope, these had a gap in the middle and, worse, one side of the drapes was hanging down completely off the rod. Unacceptable.
I called the front desk and was told they'd move me to another room if I'd come down to the lobby to get a new key. I was informed I wouldn't have to wait in the long check-in line, but could go right to the Key And Mail desk. I did, and a very helpful clerk was going to re-assign me to a room across the hall -- on the side of the Flamingo I knew has a horrible view.
I asked if there were any "Go" rooms available, because I had stayed in one of those on my previous trip and knew they were in a different tower than the ancient wing of the hotel. She told me she could do that upgrade for $15/night, which I accepted. So much for a free room -- but it wasn't going to be free anyway, because you tack on the $30/night "resort fee" to cover the cost of not-very-fast wi-fi in the room, plus the pool I wasn't like to jump into in February. Fine. I know Caesars is not alone in adding that ripoff charge in Vegas.
With a new key in hand, I proceeded to the Spa Elevators -- which also were not all functioning, causing another delay -- and when I got to the second room, discovered that it was much nicer, and the drapes closed all the way without hanging off the rod.
I also knew from previous Flamingo experience that being in the Spa Tower meant I wouldn't have to walk the gauntlet of time-share sales people in front of the other tower's elevators. I'm sure you have a kickback deal with Wyndham for the condos they're trying to sell, but you have no idea how obnoxious it is to be accosted multiple times a day by their employees trying to convince your customers to stop and talk about time shares.
I'm telling you all of this because, often, the CEO of a company doesn't really know what's going on inside every piece of his corporate empire. I mentioned each of the problems I encountered to staff members at the Flamingo, but I'm guessing they didn't get reported up the chain of command. I'm also sure that you're not aware of the low state the Flamingo has fallen to, so perhaps this email will serve as a wakeup call.
I know the Flamingo is an old hotel, and that Caesars is having huge debt problems because you acquired too many properties, forcing the corporation to declare bankruptcy, but it's a shame how you've allowed it to deteriorate to this level.
I assume you offered me two free nights to entice me to return to the Flamingo in the future. After this experience, I can assure you that will not happen.
Also on Harris Online...
- A Flamingo Followup, complete with response from the company's customer relations office.
This is the latest in the Mr. Deity series done by Brian Keith Dalton. It's a parody of religion with Dalton as the god-like Mr. Deity and other supporting characters including Amy Rohren as Lucy (as in Lucifer). He's been making these very clever videos every month or so for about nine years and posting them to his YouTube channel...
Saturday, February 13, 2016
Comedian George Wallace stopped by the studio to promote his Saturday night appearance at Lumiere Place, and we had a great time. The free-flowing conversation rolled from the Super Bowl to Valentine's Day, from his early days at Catch A Rising Star and the Comedy Store to opening for music acts like Tom Jones and Diana Ross, from his radio career to why he left Las Vegas after 10 years as a headliner.
With a guest like George, I don't need to prepare a list of questions ahead of time. In our half-hour together, he was willing to talk about whatever subject came up, often taking the lead and steering the discussion from one topic to another.
And he remembered our names.
That may not seem like a big deal, but before he walked into the studio, George didn't know that Ian and Dan and I work together. Yet once I introduced him to everyone, he remembered who each of us is and used our names casually several times in the course of the conversation. That's a skill he has honed from decades onstage, where he interacts with audience members and refers to them by name in callbacks as he goes through his act. The best veteran comics have that talent; younger comics have to develop it. That's what makes George Wallace a pro and a pleasure to be around.
Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!
This week on the showbiz segment of my show, Colin Jeffrey reviewed "Zoolander 2" and "Deadpool." We also talked about what's in the gift bags that Oscar nominees will receive, what Leonardo DiCaprio's Russian fans are planning for him, who will star in the new TV version of "Lethal Weapon," and more. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!
On this edition of my Harris Challenge -- the most fun you can have with your radio on -- the trivia categories are about the Grammy Awards, Abraham Lincoln, and Valentine's Day. Listen and play along, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!
This edition of Knuckleheads In The News® includes stories about a couple joining the High Roller Club, an alligator at the drive-thru, and a husband's assassination plot backfire. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!
Thursday, February 11, 2016
A guy's walking down the strip in Las Vegas when another man approaches him, asking for money because his wife is in the hospital and really needs an operation.
The first man thinks for a second and then asks, "I'd like to help you out, but how do I know you won't take my money, go into the casino, and blow it all at the roulette table?"
The second man answers, "Oh, you don't have to worry about that. I've got gambling money."
Note: I don't know who wrote this joke, but if I did, I'd certainly give them credit.
Wednesday, February 10, 2016
A man in Australia is driving to work when he hears The Voice say, "Quit your job. Cash out all your money. Go to Las Vegas." He looks around, but there's no one else in the car. He ignores The Voice, wondering if he might be going crazy.
On the way home that evening, he hears The Voice again. "Quit your job. Cash out all your money. Go to Las Vegas."
Thinking he's getting some sort of divine instructions, the guy quits his job, cashes out all his money, and gets on a plane to Las Vegas.
When he gets there, The Voice says, "Get in a cab. Go to Bellagio."
The guy follows the instructions.
When he gets out of the cab at the casino, The Voice says, "Go to the roulette table."
The man finds a roulette table. The Voice says, "Bet everything on 17."
The guy hesitates. The Voice repeats, "Bet everything on 17!"
The guy, now convinced he's about to become rich, bets everything on 17. The croupier spins the wheel, drops the ball, and it lands on 5.
The Voice says, "FUCK!"
Note: I don't know who wrote this joke, but if I did, I'd certainly give them credit.
Tomorrow, I'll share my all-time favorite Vegas joke.
I'm not enough of a James Corden fan to set the DVR for his "Late Late Show," but occasionally I catch a highlight via YouTube. The latest worth my time (and yours) was his trademark bit, "Carpool Karaoke," with Elton John playing along in the passenger seat.
Tuesday, February 09, 2016
Her take on the presidential campaign was sharp and biting, with the kind of attitude distinctly missing from Noah's approach. Sure, she's had months to prepare for her premiere, but much of what came out of her mouth Monday night was clearly written in the last 72 hours -- and it worked.
Who'd have thought that two weekly shows ("Full Frontal" and "Last Week Tonight") could do this better than one that does it four nights a week? Bee's impressive opener leaves the lame material that makes up Weekend Update on "SNL" in the dust, too.
I have mentioned before how much I thoroughly enjoy reading Randall Munroe's "What If?" column. The latest to put a smile on my face is his answer to a 9th-grader's question: how long would it take for a single person to fill an entire swimming pool with their own saliva? Munroe's answer is here.
Monday, February 08, 2016
I agree completely with this Post-Dispatch editorial on why it would be a horrible idea for Maryland Heights to grant a TIF to Stan Kroenke and his business partner for an 1,800-acre development in the farmland surrounding Route 141.
My dislike for the plan isn't rooted in disgust with Kroenke for the way he treated our region while moving the Rams back to Los Angeles, although that bitter taste is certainly a factor. I intensely dislike the TIF for the same reason I hated the idea of St. Louis and the state of Missouri spending our tax dollars to build a stadium for an NFL billionaire. We have to stop these monster giveaways to one-percenters who have enough capital to build things themselves (as Kroenke will do in California).
This comes at a time when our legislature is considering, as a way to raise money to fix our crumbling infrastructure, cutting welfare benefits for the poor instead of raising the ridiculously low gas tax. It's a classic extremist conservative move -- redistributing funds from the bottom of the economic pyramid to the top, hurting the don't-haves and further enriching the haves. It keeps happening because there's no one on city councils or in Jefferson City (or Washington) lobbying on behalf of the public. That's supposed to be the job of our elected representatives, but they long ago abandoned that job responsibility when the checks starting coming in from private concerns that have hundreds of lobbyists and even more strings to pull.
One question the editorial doesn't ask about turning the farmland along 141 into a mixed-use commercial development is, "What are they going to do about the flooding?" The farmers got together years ago and built a levee to keep the Missouri River from flowing onto their land, but they can't do anything about the bottoms retaining water during torrential downpours. The problem became self-evident again over Christmas when the ground was covered by several inches of rain -- not for a day, but for a couple of weeks. I drive that road regularly and saw with my own eyes that the only thing that was above water was the actual roadway -- with the water lapping at its edges or, in some cases, overrunning a lane or two.
How can any business exist in an environment where there's no place for the rain to drain because it stays mainly on the plain?
posted at 12:28 PM
Interesting that not long after it was revealed that the late Ken "The Snake" Stabler had CTE when he died, he's been elected to the NFL Hall Of Fame. I wonder if the league will try to keep his family from speaking out about the concussion and brain damage issues the way they did last year with Junior Seau's relatives.
Roger Goodell's office has to be concerned about this becoming an recurring problem for the NFL as more and more pros from the last few decades reach the end of their lifespans, whether naturally or by taking their own lives -- a la Andre Waters, Dave Duerson, and Seau. Call it irony that the NFL itself now has an ongoing chronic condition.
posted at 11:44 AM
Sunday, February 07, 2016
Saturday, February 06, 2016
I have always loved movies about con artists, from "The Sting" to "American Hustle" to "Paper Moon." So I was happy to talk with Maria Konnikova about her new book, "The Confidence Game: Why We Fall For It...Every Time," which she was inspired to write after watching another one of my favorites, David Mamet's "House Of Games." As we discussed her study of decades of con artistry, I asked her about:
- Whether she's ever been conned, and whether she'd even know it if she had;
- Why they're called "Confidence Games";
- Bernie Madoff, subject of a movie that aired this week on ABC;
- Frank Abagnale's contention that technology has made it easier to be a con artist;
- Why some victims have fallen for the same con twice;
- How most frauds never come to light and are never prosecuted;
- The story of Aunt Nancy, the professional wedding imposter who could have inspired the movie "Wedding Crashers."
This week on the showbiz segment of my show, Colin Jeffrey and I reviewed the new Coen Brothers movie, "Hail, Caesar!" (with George Clooney, Josh Brolin, Scarlet Johansson, Ralph Fiennes, Tilda Swinton, Frances McDormand, Channing Tatum, and Jonah Hill). We also discussed Louis CK's self-produced and self-distributed new show, "Horace and Pete's," and whether its financial model can work long-term. I also made a prediction about a cameo appearance to expect on "Saturday Night Live." Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!
On this special edition of my Harris Challenge -- the most fun you can have with your radio on -- the trivia categories include "Super Bowl Quarterbacks," "Super Bowl Coaches," and "Super Bowl National Anthem." Listen and play along, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!
This edition of Knuckleheads In The News® includes stories about a man in the trunk, a trailer park tunnel, and a large palm tree branch. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!
Thursday, February 04, 2016
I was sad to hear of the death of comedy legend Bob Elliott at age 92, and planned to jot down my thoughts, but before I could piece them together, my friend Mark Evanier said pretty much what I would have said. The only thing I'll add is the pleasant memory of seeing Bob and Ray in one of their last television broadcasts -- a 90-minute special that aired March 31, 1979, on a weekend that "Saturday Night Live" was off.
Interestingly, Lorne Michaels did not exec-produce the special. That task was handed over to Jean Doumanian, who a year later would be given the impossible job of "SNL" showrunner after Lorne and the original crew departed after five years. Her reign, with an entirely new cast and writing staff, only lasted one season, so this may be the most successful thing Doumanian ever had her name attached to in that time slot.
The Bob and Ray special was actually run by "SNL" writer/performers Al Franken and Tom Davis (the former was a huge Bob and Ray fan while growing up) and co-starred SNL's three outstanding female performers, who were all well-known by that time -- Jane Curtin, Laraine Newman, and Gilda Radner.
Blogger Ramsey Ess described it thusly:
This special is a weird hybrid of the classic Bob and Ray shtick that the pair had been practicing for the previous 33 years and the new, counter-culture attitude of Saturday Night Live. The program operates under the same framing device as SCTV: tonight NBC is broadcasting a program from a different television network, in this case the Finley Quality Network. Throughout the evening we are shown commercials for strange items and services from the good people at Finley, short snippets of shows also on the Finley Network, as well as musical performances from a young, beardless Willie Nelson.Here, in all its dry-humor glory, is "Bob and Ray, Jane, Laraine, and Gilda"...
Wednesday, February 03, 2016
Earlier this week, I wrote about how disappointed I was in Bill Maher's softball interview with Dr. Samir Chachoua, who claims he developed an AIDS cure from the milk of arthritic goats and administered it to Charlie Sheen. To follow up, I called upon Dr. Steven Novella (clinical neurologist, assistant professor at Yale School of Medicine, science blogger, and host of The Skeptic's Guide To The Universe podcast) to analyze what Chachoua told the gullible host of HBO's "Real Time."
Steven and I delved into how Chachoua offered no supporting evidence, why his claims are unlikely to be true, his violations of medical ethics, and his absurd charge that UCLA and Cedars-Sinai hospital "buried" his research. I also asked Steven to explain why people fall for this kind of medical hucksterism.
Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!
Seventy years before the OJ Simpson murder story, another matter was being referred to as The Trial Of The Century. That was the Leopold and Loeb case, in which two college students from wealthy families were charged with killing a teenage boy just for the thrill of it. What made the case a national sensation in 1924 was that the boys' families hired attorney Clarence Darrow, who -- in his efforts to avoid the death penalty for his clients -- used a defense very similar to the "affluenza" rationalization of Ethan Couch, the rich Texas teen who in 2013 was given probation after killing four people while driving drunk.
The Leopold and Loeb case will be re-examined in the documentary "The Perfect Crime," which will air as an episode of "American Experience" on PBS this Tuesday night (2/9/16). I spoke with director/producer Cathleen O'Connell about:
- the details of the crime;
- why the suspects didn't lawyer up right away and instead helped prosecutors make their case;
- why Darrow took the case;
- whether the murderers ever showed any remorse;
- why the trial got lots of newspaper attention, but none on radio;
- whether poor defendants would have been able to avoid capital punishment.
Here's my conversation with Dr. David Agus, best-selling author of "The End Of Illness," about his new book, "The Lucky Years: How To Thrive In The Brave New World Of Health." Among the topics we discussed:
- Why are these The Lucky Years?
- With so much medical information available, isn't there the risk of getting misinformation?
- The impact of technology, e.g. the ability to monitor your health status via apps and fitbits.
- Do we have enough good doctors to analyze all that data and come to the right conclusions?
- President Obama announced a billion-dollar moon-shot effort to cure cancer — will that help?
- Will the development of "Precision Medicine" be only available to the rich?
- Why are Americans so gullible when it comes to vitamins and supplements?