Categories
CULTURE ARCHIVES From The Archives TV ARCHIVES Uncategorized

Would You Give These Kids $150 Million to Start a TV Network? Rupert Murdoch Did

Little Rascals: The Kids Behind America’s Fourth Network

The young man about to address the TV camera looks grim. Sitting behind a table, wearing a navy ­blue blazer with four brass buttons, an Oxford blue shirt, a brick-colored tie, he could pass for an anchorman about to re­port a national tragedy. A very tired anchorman: his tan has gone sallow under the camera lights, the circles under his eyes beg for pancake. His back tensing up, he scans his notes: “Good evening, Dayton.”

Some older Fox Broadcasting execu­tives in the Los Angeles studio are watch­ing him, murmuring out of earshot. The young man, Garth Ancier, is taping a message to an affiliate station that will be holding a promotional party that night. “I’d like to welcome the Miami Valley and all of southwestern Ohio to the Fox family,” announces Garth. He looks mis­erable. Take two.

Just about 51 weeks ago, Garth Ancier was the subject of an extraordinary bidding war between Goliath and Goliath. The losers were his employers, Grant Tinker and Brandon Turtikoff, former chairman and current president respec­tively of NBC, where Garth had risen to vice-president of the network’s comedy division. The winners were Barry Diller and Rupert Murdoch, chairman and shop owner respectively of Fox Broadcasting Company (FBC). They wanted Garth, now 29, to take charge of all program­ming on what they hope will become America’s fourth network. His contract began April Fools’ Day, 1986.

FBC made its headline-grabbing debut back in October with its contender for the weeknight 11 p.m. slot, The Late Show Starring Joan Rivers. On Sunday, April 5, FBC will launch its attack on the Big Three’s primetime programs. Its strategy is to establish beachheads one night at a time, beginning with Sundays (Saturdays are targeted for late spring). So far, 105 affiliates are standing by, schedules cleared away, waiting for the results of a year’s worth of apocalyptic rumors, 16-hour days, many millions of dollars, and Garth’s own highly touted instincts. Will Fort Wayne switch to Channel 55? Is America ready for FBC?

Is FBC ready for America?

Garth puts on his glasses, scans his notes again, removes his glasses. A slen­der six-footer, with dark brown hair and eyes, he radiates intensity as he squares off for another go-round with the camera. This time he appears to have lowered his narrow shoulders a full quarter of an inch. One older Fox executive mutters, “It’s okay to laugh and smile, Garth. This is for a party.”

His comrade, another executive, re­torts, “You wouldn’t be laughing either, if you had only a month to live.”

[related_posts post_id_1=”717934″ /]

It’s been 39 years since America last witnessed the birth of a network (ABC, April 19, 1948). The moment still doesn’t seem propitious for a fourth network. Advertising rates are soft, budget cuts merciless. Since the late ’70s, the networks’ share of viewers has declined 15 per cent — not only because of competition from VCRs and cable, but because the networks are clones of one another. The industry quip is that there’s scarcely enough programming for two and a half networks.

Although 637 stations still pledge alle­giance to the networks, the number of independents has nearly doubled in the last few years, to 275. And the indies are product-hungry. They’ve turned increas­ingly toward “first-run syndication”­ — new, independently produced shows like Entertainment Tonight and Wheel of Fortune, which compete well against the Big Three in non-primetime slots.

Enter Rupert Murdoch, former owner of this newspaper, present owner of 20th Century-Fox and sundry other empires. Last year he purchased Metromedia’s seven independent stations (including New York’s Channel 5) for $2 billion. Together with 20th Century’s Barry Diller, former studio head of Paramount and perhaps the last man in Hollywood you’d want to spill your drink on, they’ve created the Fox Broadcasting Company, an “alternative programming service,” fourth force,” or as some potential sponsors have nicknamed it, the ‘Tweenie” — between a network and a first-run syndication company.

Fox has sunk $150 million into first­-year start-up costs and doesn’t expect to turn a profit for three to five years. In contrast to the network behemoths, FBC runs lean with 62 employees — they have no plans for such costly undertakings as regular news or sports coverage (though they did bid against ABC for next sea­son’s Monday Night Football). So far, 98 independent stations and five ABC affiliates, plus Murdochs seven, carry The Late Show, and FBC claims it reaches 80 per cent of American households. But most of the Fox indie affiliates are on the weaker-signal UHF band — that never-never land beyond Channel 13. So far, the “network” is more of a buzzword than a broadcasting venture.

[related_posts post_id_1=”721462″ /]

On this Monday morning in March, 33 days before launch, the phones in the FBC Century City offices ring persistent­ly, vice-presidents drop whatever they’re doing and rush down the halls preparing explanations… defenses… excuses for the Grand Inquisitor. Mr. Diller is not pleased. Simply put, the problem is that America has not yet been made to feel that Fox Broadcasting should be the most important thing in their lives.

The FBC logo has not yet been settled on. The Show Status Report, a weekly update on publicity campaigns, is stud­ded with “TBDs” (To Be Determined). In some cities at least 45 per cent of the viewers surveyed didn’t know which sta­tion carried The Late Show. And about Miss Rivers — her ratings are sliding, her show is over budget, her program an em­barrassment. The promos for the new shows aren’t ready. The new shows aren’t ready. And who sent a work-in-progress cassette to the Washington Post for review?

In Garth Ancier’s office, the week does not begin fresh at 7 a.m. on this same Monday morning — it merely continues from the night and day before. He operates out of an innocuous but spacious room with two leather couches, Museum of Broadcasting posters, a brass dish filled with Gummi Bears, an oval desk, no books, two TVs — at least one alway on, sound off, a visual pacifier — and a wall­-sized, party-colored chart of the networks’ primetime schedule that looks like a gameboard.

[related_posts post_id_1=”722865″ /]

Most of the blocks under the FBC heading are blank. Throughout April and May, perhaps into June, FBC will roll out nine weekend shows. But with only 12 projects — two of which are just pilots — it has virtually no backup programming. By traditional, pilot-heavy network standards, that makes as much sense as doing high-wire act during an earthquake.

With just a month to go, most of its scripts are still in various stages of doo­dling, rewriting, casting, recasting, shooting and reshooting. One, Down and Out in Beverly Hills, is living up to its name. And will the Household Name Actress please get on the exercycle? Will the Hip­ Name Actor behave himself, or will his character meet an early, mid-season death? What are the chances TV Guide will hold up its program-schedule deadlines until Fox gets its act together?

Just to make sure America has no ex­cuse not to tune in, FBC will air the premieres of two half-hour programs three times each, between 7 and 10 p.m. on April 5. The sitcom Married… With Children, though, is in the grip of a censorship battle with the network, the sponsors, and the executive producers­ — as Garth put it, “The whole company is split on ‘Pummel Men’s Scrotums.’ ” And the producers of a comedy-variety show­case called The Tracey Ullman Show, scheduled for a preliminary run-through, are so unsure about it that, as Fox liaison Michael Lansbury reported, “They, uh, don’t want us network fascist types to make their presence felt.”

At least 12 projects, each its own soap opera of complaints and demands, phone in to Garth regularly. But this morning’s major migraine is the show FBC has scheduled for April 12, a $10-million se­ries now entitled 21 Jump Street, from the creator of The Rockford Files and The A-Team but also Stingray and Hunt­er, the pipe-smoking man who signs off every show by whipping a page from a typewriter and tossing it in the air: Ste­phen J. Cannell. Garth has just taken his third look at the two-hour Jump Street premiere and made copious notes. Character credibility, holes in the plot, objec­tionable language — from behind his closed door can be heard muffled sounds of high-pitched, fast-talking voices. Garth deputizes Kevin Wendle, second in command of the five-member program­ming staff, to speak to Cannell.

[related_posts post_id_1=”722528″ /]

Kevin returns that night, looking haggard: some disagreements over the pre­miere have been resolved — “shmuck” is out — others loom, and he’s brought a rough cut of another episode. 21 Jump Street, which kicks off the lineup, is cru­cial to FBC’s Sunday night counter-programming: “At seven o’clock there’s a real opportunity for getting kids and teens,” explains Kevin, 28, FBC’s vice­-president of primetime and late-night programming. “Our House is real soft—”

“—Soft, soft, like watching paint dry,” says Garth, rolling his eyes.

“—Sixty Minutes is sophisticated, ur­ban, older. The Disney Movie is a glossy view of how adults think kids look at the world. We went in for a calculated ap­proach: four young cops undercover in high schools. The idea is to root out bad kids before they become bad adults. You can’t make the cops narcs — kids would resent you. So we make them exciting, likable leads. There’s no greater social purpose here. If it was a realistic script, it wouldn’t be entertaining.”

We watch the rough cut. Among the memorable lines: Teacher—“You lied to me!” Young Cop—“No. I misled you.”

Afterwards, looking boyish and wide­-eyed, they ask my reaction. I have jet lag, I am lunchless. I cannot summon the grace to be opaque. I hate the show. They listen without flinching. “I was starting to feel really depressed by what you said,” Garth says later. He is removing his glasses, rubbing his eyes, “But then I remembered: you don’t watch a lot of television.”

Kevin Wendle describes Garth, his boss, as his best friend. They are constantly running into each other’s offices, jabbering, putting out fires all day long. While driving on the freeway, Kevin calls up Garth, and plays audition cassettes for Jump Street’s theme music over the car phone. Public­ly, they present a united corporate front — always the brass-buttoned blazer, tie, and loafers. But Garth detests Silly; his latest example of sitcom nadir is ALF. Kevin doesn’t mind a talking car or two “if the concept is well executed.” Kevin drives a snappy white Alfa Romeo, Garth a garden-variety gray 560 SL Mercedes convertible. Kevin, who is slim, has been known to eat actual meals; Garth, who is slimmer still, is a world-class weight neurotic who’ll sit down to a 300-calorie Lean Cuisine dinner at 10:30 p.m. and not eat for another 24 hours. Kevin owns a house-with-pool in a fashionable part of town. Garth? A condo in north Holly­wood, practically in the Valley. When Ke­vin asked him why, he said, “Because that’s where the audience lives.”

One morning, hours after his 5:30 a.m. workout at the Fox gym, Kevin walks familiarly into the Bel-Air Hotel, L.A.’s power breakfast room of the moment. He’s led to a see-and-be-seen table by the window, and orders granola with fruit, skim milk, decaf. Kevin has been working in radio and television for half of his entire life.

Fourteen years ago, New York’s WINS news radio was led to believe its new production assistant on the four-to-mid­night shift was 17; he was actually a 14-year-old high school sophomore from northern New Jersey: “Every night my mother would go to sleep, set her alarm, and drive to the bus stop in her pajamas to pick me up at 1:30 a.m.” After a year, he jumped to WPIX-TV and by the time he did turn 17, Kevin was producing PIX’s Midday News. He skipped the rest of his senior year and enrolled in NYU, choosing the easiest degree program he could find — journalism. When he was a 19-year-old associate producer, the show won the first Emmy awarded to an inde­pendent station for a newscast.

Kevin’s dream in those days was to produce the top-rated newscast in New York, but there were only three such jobs in the city. Then ABC in Chicago called: “I dropped out of college, read a few books about Chicago. It was pretty funny: I had braces, and I was 20 — not old enough to drink there — and I was pro­ducer of the six o’clock news.

[related_posts post_id_1=”721955” /]

“I loved television so much. I was a news junkie in the Eyewitness news fash­ion — providing information in a provocative way can be fun. I still get the New York Post here.”

Finally Channel 7, ABC’s New York affiliate, summoned. “I produced Roger and Bill — it was the era of Roseanne, Snyder, Ernie, Bob Lape. We went to number one. Two and a half years later I decided to leave news and go into pro­gramming. I was 24, and I’d just OD’d on studying the world.”

Kevin’s face is unlined, but his light brown hair is shot with gray. Likable and easy to be around, he’s at once calm and alert, gracious. His comments are all the more stunning because of his affectless delivery. “I’ll be working for a month, more, and I’ll realize I should take a day off, go to the beach, fall in love or some­thing, because you have to experience things so you can think, wouldn’t that be nice to get on television?'”

Kevin’s first programming success for ABC was 1983’s New York Hot Tracks, the black music show shot in the city’s dance clubs; his first failure was New York Style, Regis Philbin’s ill-fated after­noon show. Bored, restless, Kevin quit ABC. Real television, he decided, was be­ing made in Hollywood.

NBC’s Brandon Tartikoff offered to start him as manager in NBC’s drama development. Kevin, who’d been sports-­ignorant when he started writing about it at WPIX, who’d been Chicago-ignorant before he produced its newscast, who didn’t have a clue about black music be­fore he put it on TV, felt that perhaps he should tell Tartikoff he knew absolutely nothing about hour-long action shows. “Brandon said, ‘Just listen and learn. In a year you’ll be running the place.’ ”

Kevin also spent the year “learning the town”: memorizing hundreds of career paths, becoming fluent in the machine­-gun language of the industry, socializing aggressively, manipulating rumors — skills critical for a young job-jumper. After 14 months’ experience in network program­ming, Kevin was invited to dine with Barry Diller and Rupert Murdoch. Several days later he was phoned by Jamie Kellner, the new president of Fox Broad­casting Company: “Barry thinks you’re a name with a bullet.”

[related_posts post_id_1=”722337″ /]

Even Kevin didn’t have the back­ground to run all the programming for the new network. “I didn’t think they could get Garth — Garth was Brandon’s right-hand man.” But they did, and on the last Friday morning in March, 1986, Garth resigned at 9:30, Kevin an hour later. NBC strongly advised their former fair-haired boys to be out by noon.

“We were kids in a candy store. We packed Garth’s car with every book on TV we could find — writers books, lists of writers, greatest TV movies — we wanted to study the history of TV. We spent the weekend in Palm Springs plotting the networks, examining their cycles.

“We studied the face of television and took apart the seven nights: which ones lost audience and why? Men, teens, and kids were down 20 share points on Satur­day night — there’s nothing for them to watch. That’s why we’ve got Werewolf.” (And, for female viewers home on Satur­day nights, Karen’s Song, a dramatic sit­com about an affair between a 40-year-­old divorced, working woman and a 28- year-old aspiring caterer.)

“The networks have always pro­grammed by saying, ‘What’s on TV?’ So Garth said, ‘What’s not on TV? How can we counterprogram?’ We’re a threat to the way they do business, the going to lunch, the favors, the relationships with people, the hours spent on projects every­one agrees beforehand won’t fly. I don’t like us to be called a network. Networks are dinosaurs.”

Rather grandly, he says that at 50 he should put himself to pasture, and open a restaurant. Later in the week, he listens to project proposals from a silver-haired, former high-ranking NBC executive. The ideas, Kevin and a staff member con­clude, are “too ’70s.”

A new show called Beans Baxter may be Kevin’s favorite in the FBC lineup. With spies who hide in toaster ovens and mail boxes, it certainly approaches Silly. But Kevin — who describes the show as “Hey Wally, can I borrow your Howit­zer?” — believes it could develop a cult following.

Wearing a nondescript blazer, politely requesting a phone for the table, Kevin doesn’t look like a guy who’d know a cult hit if it introduced itself to him. Even so: Beans Baxter’s premiere includes Elinor Donohue (of Father Knows Best) as Mom and chainsaw queen Wendy O. Williams as a dominatrix-type bad girl. “Garth and I aren’t hip,” Kevin says, as he finishes his granola, “but hopefully we know peo­ple who are.”

[related_posts post_id_1=”721434″ /]

When word got out that there was now a fourth market for televi­sion programming, Hollywood, pitchpersons stampeded Garth’s door. The Pitch is the traditional first step to a primetime slot: a flatter-­tease-and-grovel session of approximately 26 minutes performed by a writer, producer, and two agents for a stone-faced network executive. The tales brought back by the first survivors of the Fox sessions were chilling: Garth did not suffer pitches gladly. And he almost cate­gorically refused to take risks with unknowns.

How different did Fox need to be to romance viewers away from the Big Three? How different could Fox afford to be, and still romance sponsors? FBC’s programming, management decided, would strive for freshness by “network” standards. Garth wanted to lure proven talent; it was not his job to polish diamonds in the rough, he said. That was the responsibility of the production studios.

FBC pays comparable network prices — $300,000 to $500,000 for a half-­hour episode. Even so, why would a top producer in television — whose prestige is roughly analogous to a top director’s in film and who can virtually have his way with any of the Big Three — consider signing with a phantom network whose shows would be watched by about 35 peo­ple in the whole country?

This is a partial roster of producers and writers working with FBC: Jim Brooks (Mary Tyler Moore, Taxi, Lou Grant, Terms of Endearment), Ed Wein­berger (M.A.S.H.), Gary David Goldberg (Family Ties), Margie Peters and Linda Marsh (Family Ties, Valerie), and Ste­phen J. Cannell. Disney Studios has a project with them. And so does New York’s radio madman, Howard Stern.

Garth never intended to reinvent net­work television, but he did reinvent how it is developed. Instead of waiting for pitches, he did the pitching. Producers for FBC would have two things that are almost unheard of: job security in the form of a guaranteed 13 episodes (no make-it-or-break-it pilot) and creative freedom.

It’s time for the generals’ address to the troops — the weekly update that FBC management telecasts to its affiliates. On this Tuesday morning, headquarter’s mission is particularly tricky: convince affiliates that the folks in Century City know exactly what they’re doing, plans are right on schedule, and so how about a little enthusiasm out there?

Five FBC executives, Garth among them, sit behind a table in a studio at KTTV, the Fox-owned station in Los Angeles. In the politest terms, an execu­tive scolds some affiliates for being chick­enshit and airing The Late Show after Johnny Carson. (The affiliates have to know, Barry Diller has instructed his generals, that the 11 o’clock franchise is “destiny.”) Next, a message from Our Whiz Kid: programming is moving along nicely, now let’s take a look at a two-minute test from Karen’s Song, “un­sweetened,” apologizes Garth, by music or laugh tracks. Then FBC’s April debut strategy explained: to avoid the heavy pounding by the networks during the March and May sweeps. Questions?

Amarillo. Seattle. Norfolk. From around the country, inquiring station managers want to know: “Programming from the network ends at 10 p.m. What do you suggest we follow it with?” Garth?

A. “We offer young, upscale, urban­-oriented programming. On Sundays, try an adult sitcom like Taxi or Barney Miller, since there are no sitcoms on CBS and NBC then.”

Another executive adds with some ur­gency, “If someone is trying to get you to program religion, please think about it carefully.”

Oklahoma City. Davenport. Chatta­nooga. “Garth, can you confirm the title of Werewolf [a new show]?”

A. “Yes I can.” Pause. Hearty smile. “We’ve spent a half-million bucks to pay for his transformation from man into wolf!”

Raleigh, North Carolina, wants to know if the stars of the shows will be making appearances for publicity interviews.

A. Er. Uh. Maximum impact, major cities, so “not in Raleigh.”

Green Bay has heard rumors that FBC may be signing up a station in Milwaukee, which borders the Green Bay sta­tion’s Area of Dominant Influence (ADI). Say it ain’t so, Fox.

A. At the moment there is no Fox station in Milwaukee. But it’s likely there will be by the end of the week.

Savannah. Salt Lake City. Little Rock. “What will FBC do if other networks put up blockbuster movies during their de­but?” Garth?

He laughs confidently, with a touch of disdain. “NBC putting on a 7-to-10 mov­ie? They’re stuck with Rags to Riches [a new show] and with only two weeks on the air, they wouldn’t pull it. Besides, they’re well aware that if they did, we’d use it as a publicity stunt.”

No more questions? See you next week then, and remember (a billboard flashes on the monitors): 33 DAYS UNTIL PRIME TIME LAUNCH!

[related_posts post_id_1=”713841″ /]

These days, FBC’s young programming staff runs on caffeine, Gummi Bears, excitement, and dread. No one has time to wait for the elevator, no one has time to speak in complete sentences. Garth, who does so much of his work over the phone, throws his legs up on his desk and talks the fastest of them all: “Cheers may go to Wednesday at 9? Oblivion!… Yeah, I hear he’s looking — you going after him?… The studio thinks it’s a great made-for. Now I really wonder about their judgment. They’re supposed to be doing something with us, you know.”

One night he agrees to be wrested from the office for an hour or so. In the vesti­bule of a crowded Westwood restaurant (Kevin’s recommendation), one of Ameri­ca’s most powerful television executives turns into just another guy who’s daunted by a maitre d’. All the tables in the lounge are taken, and Garth isn’t allowed to sit upstairs, because of course he does not want to order food. He gazes longingly at the TV over the bar, which happens to be tuned to Fox’s KTIV. “Do you think they’d give me a table if I threatened to yank that show off their set?” he says, half kidding.

Edging up to the bar, he orders a spar­kling water and inhales basketfuls of pop­corn (“very low in calories”). He is starting to unwind. In the office, he’s perceived as a mysterious work ma­chine — coolheaded, efficient, tireless. Outside the office, he’s a young 29, gawky, high-spirited, recounting war sto­ries that are “unbeleeevable!” Like the one about how he was talked into leaving NBC.

“I had my first meeting with [FBC president] Jamie Kellner on Friday night, then Sunday morning at Barry’s house. That night I went to a black-tie function­al and sat at a table with [RCA chairman Thornton] Bradshaw, Grant Tinker, and Brandon. I felt like such a turncoat. FBC’s offer came Monday morning at 7:30. Tuesday, Brandon counteroffered. Grant called me and said that a fourth network would never work — NBC tried to make me feel like I was one of three people in the entire world. I called Fox to pass. Wednesday night Barry said, ‘Don’t pass, have drinks with Rupert.’ Rupert was charismatic. He didn’t make a hard sell. He just said he’d like to meet the man who was going to spend his money.”

[related_posts post_id_1=”720727″ /]

Garth left because the challenge was gone — NBC had been number one for over a year, in part because of the come­dies he’d helped develop. He was tanta­lized by the prospect of a new venture and by going head-to-head with his mentors. But his greatest challenge would be Barry Diller, a man who clearly enjoys stoking his reputation as Hollywood’s Vlad the Impaler. “Barry tolerates no bullshit. When you’re in a big company like NBC there’s so much wasted time, so much hidden agenda. Here, it’s like a precept at Princeton. Rupert and Barry want total truth. Barry and I fight a lot. I like to win, and I win a lot. But Barry makes me work for everything I get.”

When Garth was growing up in Law­renceville, New Jersey, his parents would lock him out of the house to make him play with other kids. Garth, who still considers himself a loner, preferred TV: “If you don’t like the people, you can change the channel.” Some of his fondest memories from the Lawrenceville School and Princeton, be says, are of sitting around with friends, watching TV.

At 12 he interned at a public television station; at 14 he was running the control board of a beautiful-music radio station. To fulfill FCC requirements, it needed a public affairs program. Garth, then 16, developed the Sunday morning show that has come to be known as American Focus and is carried by 400 stations. The first person he interviewed was the state’s traffic safety coordinator. “Then we interviewed Katharine Graham, because she had just bought the Trenton Times. I was a cocky kid.”

He talked New York’s WNBC into air­ing the show; then 16 NBC affiliates car­ried it. When he was graduated, barely, from Princeton in 1979, the show had become a campus institution and had been written up in the national press. “I was traveling across the country, meeting stars, world leaders, having a great time,” says Garth, rather bemused by himself­. “When you’re on your second CIA director…”

After graduation, he thought he’d like to go into network programming. He was in Los Angeles to interview Jimmy Stew­art for the radio show, but he didn’t have a résumé with him. So he walked into Brandon Tartikoff’s office and handed him a People profile. “Brandon looked at it and said, ‘Oh, you went to Lawrence­ville, too?’ ”

[related_posts post_id_1=”714416” /]

Garth watched an awful lot of televi­sion over the next seven years. “Most network shows are poorly executed. You can see the jokes coming a mile away. NBC always went for the jokes first. I always look for the story-telling, the emo­tion, the characters first, then the jokes.” Designing Women, he thinks, is terrible: “one character, split four ways.” He admires Murder She Wrote, 60 Minutes, Kate and Allie, Who’s the Boss, Newhart “most of the time.” Moonlighting, “but they can’t afford to make a lot of Moon­lightings at three and a half million an episode.” Cagney and Lacey? “A little dark, a little depressing.” Hill Street? “Well done, but I don’t enjoy it.” At home, Garth owns a 46-inch screen and four monitors.

“The writer-producers are my heroes — ­they did the shows I watched in college. At NBC I’d worked with Jim Brooks on Taxi. I was totally in awe of this guy, I mean, you’re talking God. He’s so talent­ed I’m scared to death of him. When I heard that he wanted to do something with us [The Tracey Ullman Show] I was too shy to call him up and say thank you, so I sent him a hand-written note.”

Nevertheless, Garth says, it’s been dif­ficult to inspire people. “I’ve been telling them ‘Please be more adventurous.’ They’ve been so beaten down they’re afraid to take chances.” Like the time the Buffalo Bill people wanted to do a show on abortion, and Garth had to negotiate between writers and censors, line by line. The haggling over language, never mind ideas. Sleazeball yes, scumbag no?

It’s 8:30, long past time to phone in to the office. The staff is waiting for him — the hour-long premiere of Duet has just arrived. He gets into the Mercedes, and dials as he drives. “Kevin, you ordered pizza?” A smile crosses his face.

As he’s heading back to work, Garth insists he really is a rebel, given to flashes of spontaneity. Once, he says, he was supposed to be in Aspen for a meeting, but he’d heard the flight was nervous­-making. Abruptly, he decided to make the 20-hour drive alone. In the middle of the night his car broke down in a desert town near Las Vegas.

“Everybody was stopping at the gas station. People on their way to gamble. To get married. Get divorced. Husbands and wives yelling at each other. Ameri­cans acting just like Americans, you know?” He is beaming, as he replays the memory. “And I thought, ‘Unbelievable! This is just like a comedy series!’ ”

[related_posts post_id_1=”717929” /]

In a middle-class American living room, a boy wearing Rambo-style camouflage garrots his older sister, screaming, “DIE, COMMIE BIMBO!”

His mother is irked. “Remember the effect it had on Gramma?”

So begins the premiere of Married… With Children, the FBC sitcom that is Garth Ancier’s pride and joy, The show is about the 15-year-old marriage between Peggy, a housewife, and Al, a shoe sales­man, and their newlywed neighbors, Steve, a bank teller, and Marcy, his boss. It’s open warfare between the sexes: Peg­gy puts a cactus where Al’s alarm clock used to be; he wipes the blood off his hand with her slip. Steve and Al, com­plete opposites, discover a common ene­my — P.M.S., which they define as “Pummel Men’s Scrotums.”

“Imagine Sam Kinison married to Roseanne Barr,” says Garth.”This is offensive. It’s supposed to break through the blandness of the medium. TV is too… nice—”

“—In an age of nice for niceness’ sake, it’s an original,” finishes Kevin. “It’s a good working-man’s comedy.”

On Wednesday afternoon, the cast is doing a timed run-through in a cavernous rehearsal hall. The observers, industry guests and the ubiquitous Foxies, sit al­most in the actors’ laps. Watching a hyperventilated TV sitcom performed life­-size is unsettling: without the screen to reduce and frame them, the performances seem grotesque. But the writing is full of surprises, the characters raunchy and af­fable, and soon the room is hooting with laughter; even the actors break up. Garth’s face is the most animated it’s been in three days: glowing with pleasure, hanging on every line, he is watching TV.

Afterwards, two wild men assail him. One is talking rapid Jewish-Brooklynese, chomping gum, and chain-smoking, dressed in no-name jeans and a sweat­stained T-shirt delineating bulk that wishes it could pass for muscle. The in­stant he pauses to wheeze, the other, a short, stocky black guy dressed in jeans and a flannel shirt, finishes the sentence and barrels ahead. They’re the 22-min­ute-and-10-second champs, Ron Leavitt and Michael Moye. One or both of them have left boot prints on Laverne and Shirley, Happy Days, Sanford and Son, The Jeffersons. Now they’re executive producers of Married… With Children.

[related_posts post_id_1=”397777″ /]

Garth rushes off to another meeting, and Leavitt and Moye reconvene in an office that looks like an X-rated Romper Room. Toy guns, bows and arrows, a life­-sized dummy, and a hip-high cardboard box filled with food for thought: Ding Dongs, Suzie Qs, a gourmet selection of Entenmann’s and… Twinkies?

“If Twinkies can get someone off for murder, they can certainly get us on the air,” asserts Ron.

“Garth told us: ‘Anything you want to do, we’ll leave you alone,’ ” says Michael. “Now, we’ve heard that before from the networks, but usually there’s an aster­isk — ‘see below’ — and then we get all those footnotes. Poor Garth! Look what we gave him. At least he knew we were bizarre enough not to be trusted.”

Ron and Michael play hip, talk irrever­ent, but their dirty little secret is that they’re workaholics and perfectionists. They may work until 3 a.m., but they’ll take their staff out drinking and bowling for the rest of the night. But on this show, there’s even more at stake than usual. Michael’s rage is only slightly clos­er to the surface than Ron’s. “It’s my rebuttal to all the crap in the family shows. Kids don’t want advice. They want money.”

Ron: “If you want to see that plastic facade shit, you got the networks. We wanted to show a more… realistic 15-year-old marriage. The ugly stuff comes from our lives and we just take it to a ridiculous extreme. Our lives were boring, we have no friends, we’re beaten by our wives, and we wash dishes.

“Garth knew this was a calculated risk. We’re not coming out of the starting gate saying please love us. The show is for people who think, ‘I just wish Cosby had my kids for five minutes.’ ”

Michael: “They’re calling our show a comic version of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. We just want America to sit back with a beer and say, ‘Holy shit! Now that’s writin’!’ ”

“—And then go pee,” finishes Ron. “Every sitcom has to have a ‘mes­sage,’ ” says Michael.

“—Ours doesn’t,” says Ron. “Yeah! It’s about time somebody had nothing to say,” finishes Michael.

[related_posts post_id_1=”714847″ /]

The possibility that women viewers might resent female characters portrayed as castrators while their men are long-suffering victims eludes Ron and Mi­chael. “We have a lot of women on our staff [directors, writers, crew], and we set out to do a show that was sexist on both sides. Naturally, being guys, we’re more brutal on women. We can’t find anything wrong with guys,” says Ron. “Look, Al is no dream, he’s not that smart. But make a woman stupid on television and you’ve just fucked with God.”

It’s difficult to imagine Married… With Children getting an air date on a Big Three network. “If we did get on the networks and were a hit, they’d leave us alone,” says Michael. “But if we were mediocre, they’d say, ‘Make Peggy more saintly, make Al more likable, have them say I love you four times a show.’ If the kids have problems, the parents should catch them quickly and crush them.”

Ron: “If FBC says that to us, I hope we have the nerve to say no. I hope instead they’ll say, ‘Please guys, just get the fuck off our network.’ ”

Unlike the other networks, FBC does not have an in-house censor. The day after their bold talk, Leavitt and Moye received memos from Bristol-Meyers, Clorox, Johnson & Johnson, and Kraft expressing their unwillingness to sponsor a show with the line “Pommel Men’s Scrotums.”

“Now we’ll see which way the testicles are swinging — or if they’re just going to pull ’em up,” said Michael. Would FBC bleep on debut night?

As of last week, Leavitt and Moye were refusing to rewrite the line. “Poor Garth,” said Ron. “This is really gonna wrinkle his shirt.”

[related_posts post_id_1=”713118″ /]

On Friday night, Southern Califor­nia fraternity kids swarm into a Fox studio, hired to yuck it up during the first taping of producer Jim Brooks’s new project, The Tracey Ullman Show. The autograph­ hounds leap on Danny De Vito (a Brooks Taxi alum) and Rhea Perlman, the room’s best-known stars.

In the middle of the row behind the couple, a flamboyant L.A. cockatoo keeps leaving his seat, bored by the deadly pace of the taping. He apologizes distractedly each time he crunches on four pairs of corporate-proper shoes, trips over eight conservatively clad knees. He is unaware they belong to the room’s most powerful stars: Kevin Wendle, Garth Ancier, Barry Diller, and Rupert Murdoch.

Brooks’s new show is an energetic showcase of comedy skits, animation, and variety acts, done on an intimate, anti-­glitter scale with two revolving sets. As Garth is fond of saying, there’s nothing on TV like it. So far, the show’s pace, tone, and appearance still exist largely in the minds of Brooks and his comedy writers — Garth knows he may well not see the finished product until a minute before the final deadline.

British pop star Tracey Ullman and sidekick Julie Kavner struggle through the first act. “I’m changing the channel back to Who’s the Boss,” groans a frat kid. Take two. Take three. It is difficult to laugh at a strained joke the fourth time around. One camera breaks. Then another.

Diller and Garth chat up Murdoch.

Act two. Suddenly Ullman pulls out a bravura comic performance, and the au­dience explodes. Rupert is applauding. Next, the variety act — juggler Daniel Ro­sen — dazzles everyone, even Diller but es­pecially Rupert. They’ve seen enough, they get the idea. They leave, happy net­work executives.

The show inches toward its goal: TV that’s hot and cool. Kavner wheeled in as a survivor of a terrible car accident; Ull­man as her maddeningly chirpy neighbor, who has been stabbed on a bus with a penknife 32 times. Take four. This half-­hour program has been taping for three hours.

Then Ullman, now a modem single woman, hires a band and records a mes­sage into her phone answering machine. Throwing her red curls around, parody­ing rock performers, she brings down the house. “Now, that’s more like it,” rates the fraternity kid.

[related_posts post_id_1=”714924″ /]

After a gray, chilly week, the South­ern California climate finally comes out with it: sun, blue skies, gentle breeze, the whole bit. A per­fect Saturday to go to the beach.

Garth and Kevin, frayed by the march of 7 a.m.-to-midnight hours, head for the ’burbs. The rural bedroom community of Calabasas, California, is about as close to American heartland sensibility as can be found in a morning’s drive from Los An­geles. And Saturday afternoon is the only time you can get a bunch of teens and college kids together to watch a little TV. After months of fine-tuning the counter­programming strategy, endless hours of fighting and rewriting and second-guess­ing, FBC is presenting 21 Jump Street (once called The Undercover Kid, then Jump Street Chapel) to its most influen­tial critics — the target audience.

Garth doesn’t like to test pilots before they air, and partly blames the blanding of TV on the practice. The pilots of All in the Family and Miami Vice, he points out, did terribly. “Research only tells you what people are comfortable with, not if it can be a breakout show.” But today he’s making an exception to his own rule. FBC and the Cannell people have reached an impasse on the premiere of 21 Jump Street. The series, the foundation of FBC’s entire Sunday night schedule, has Garth so worried that he’s turning to viewer focus groups for reassurance. Even if, God forbid, they don’t like the show, he hopes their criticisms will persuade Cannell to make the changes — such as rehauling the epilogue — that FBC has been urging.

The official bio for Stephen J. Cannell trumpets him as “one of the most prolific and successful writer/producers working in the television industry today… a trendsetter.” His independent production company, in the STEPHEN J. CAN­NELL building at La Brea and Hollywood, bas created a record number of pilots that have gone to series. Cannell’s 1986 gross revenues from the shows, sales of soundtracks, and licensing of merchan­dise, from Rambo dolls to A-Team lunch boxes, was about $150 million.

The day before the Calabasas focus group, Cannell remained publicly unperturbed. “The Fox guys are at their most tense moment — they’re a little white­-knuckled. They have a tendency to go to the pilot [premiere show] and fix things and I say, ‘Guys, we gotta go on! If we play with this for the next three weeks we’re in trouble! I mean, it’s just 30 sec­onds of film!’ ”

A fire crackles in the fireplace at one end of Cannell’s sixth-floor office, which is decorated in what he describes as “En­glish hunting colors” and looks over Hol­lywood. If Ron Leavitt and Michael Moye are determined not to look like writers, then Cannell is Writer from cen­tral casting — a tanned, lithe 45-year-old whose signature style is windbreaker and pipe. He eschews a desk for the informal­ity of a face-to-face chat. His publicist is also in the room.

[related_posts post_id_1=”720908″ /]

“I thought Jump Street was a real good idea — I could have sold it to CBS. With the exception of Mod Squad, there’s nothing like it on TV. You got murder in high school, you got drugs. So let ’em OD and die but don’t be a snitch? That’s the moral position?”

He maintains that if the audience saw his version of Jump Street and then the one with Fox’s changes, “they’d say, ‘What’s the difference?’ That’s the posi­tion I take. Of course, you do have to care about what you’re doing. Im not in it for the money. Writing is still what’s most important to me. I’m proud of this show — it’s about as good as I get.”

Ten white teens and young adults from Calabasas are watching the best Stephen J. Cannell has to offer. The two-hour premiere of 21 Jump Street introduces a mini-UN of rookie cops, so young-looking (so cute, so potential teen idol) that they “lack authority on the street,” as the show puts it. A long-haired, sour, ex­-hippie cop captain trains them to pose as students in different high schools. In this episode, a well-to-do white student serves as a drug runner for two black student dealers who park their (stolen and unreported) Ferraris in the school lot. Follow­ing a scuffle, the vice-principal gives the black guys two-week’s detention. Chase scene, cliff-hanger, rescue. In the epilogue, sour ex-hippie cop captain hangs out with garage band buddies, blissfully lip-synching to the Grateful Dead.

As Kevin and Garth observe behind the one-way window, the researcher probes the group for an hour.

John, 21: You’re watching a detective show and a band comes on?

Scott, 18: And that music they were playing was kinda outdated, from the ’70s.

James, 19: But it’s the only show on TV that has kids our age taking on the bad guys.

David, 20: Yeah, it came down to our level. I think it’s very educational.

But one viewer has trouble believing (a) that a high school student would have a Ferrari and (b) same student would be so calm after it was deliberately scratched. Jamie, 18, however, thinks (a) and (b) are realistic.

Certain characters they just don’t get at all. Jamie doesn’t see a lot of hippies around these days, much less hippie cops. Sophia, 21, has never seen students talk back to teachers that way, “but I went to a private high school.” And Morgan can’t figure the black rookie — “You just don’t see a lot of black lady cops.” Others com­plain she’s too dainty. How come when she got into trouble, everybody looked worried, like she couldn’t take care of herself’?

What about the writing? “If they can keep it up to this caliber, it’s pretty good.” (From the observation room, snickers.)

Violence? “Compared to Miami Vice, this is grammar school.” Message? “It won’t stop kids from dealing. But it will make them more careful about who they deal to.”

How do they feel about narcs in high school? They don’t like them, but “these guys are nice. They want to stop crime and help kids.”

How many would watch Jump Street (“Oh God, here it comes,” murmurs Garth) instead of: Our House? All 10 raise their hands. Miami Vice? Five (“Vice is getting old,” says James). Mur­der, She Wrote? Eight. Disney Movie? Gales of laughter. Sixty Minutes? Seven.

“Welcome,” says Kevin, “to middle America.”

[related_posts post_id_1=”266111″ /]

The researcher steps into the observa­tion room and translates the session for Kevin and Garth. “They’re picking holes in the the plot. Did you hear them though? The first word they said is ‘ac­tion.’ They like most of the characters — ­they’re seeing teenagers, and it’s a show on their level. When they say it’s ‘differ­ent,’ they mean you have a good idea. But this age group didn’t buy that ’60s stuff. The ’60s to them is like the ’40s to us.”

“Our specific concerns were the top of the show, the hospital scene, and the entry into the chapel [the rookies’ head­quarters],” says Garth. The viewers ques­tioned those scenes, too. “They really didn’t buy the chapel,” replies the re­searcher. “If you spend a lot of time in it, you’re in trouble.”

But, he adds, “I was surprised they were so positive. They picked it apart, but I’ve seen groups destroy shows. As for the black cop, all she has to do is put one person in his place and it’ll establish her character. Remember, though, you can’t make a living off this age group.”

Kevin says, “We’re mostly interested in just building a big audience for that hour.” The researcher nods. “They did say there’s nothing else on for them to watch. And they all said they felt com­fortable watching it with their parents. What you have to do is send up heat around the show — create a campaign that will form their attitude that it’s hip to watch Jump Street. And then, I’d say, you’ve got yourselves a hit.”

Kevin requests that a transcript be sent to the producers right away. Armed with more paperwork, Garth and Kevin will fight the good fight with Cannell. The viewers have indeed backed up their contentions: taken swipes at certain roles, laughed off entire scenes. (In fact, within weeks a drunk driver will kill off the ex-hippie captain — so much for “that ’60s stuff.”) But the viewers have also born out Cannell: they approve of under­cover cops moving among them. A quib­ble here and there, but the whole is just fine with them. And, as every good televi­sion programmer knows, all that matters is whether the audience will swallow the concept. Blinking as they step into the bright California afternoon, Garth and Kevin look deeply pleased. FBC may not yet be ready for America, but America is ready for FBC. ❖

Categories
CULTURE ARCHIVES FILM ARCHIVES Living NYC ARCHIVES TV ARCHIVES VOICE CHOICES ARCHIVES

Preaching to the Perverted

TORONTO—Thanks to a court ruling last spring, Ontario’s once fearsome censor board seems poised to pass into history—and not a moment too soon. Along with its customary cinematic bounty, this year’s Toronto International Film Festival included at least a half-dozen features calculated to burst a bluenose capillary.

John Waters’s A Dirty Shame, which had its world premiere at Toronto and opens here this week, is a nonstop raunchfest with a surreal premise and a provocative agenda. A timely concussion transforms repressed Baltimore housewife Tracey Ullman into a walking libido—sexually avid and hilariously impulsive—until another concussion reverses her madcap disinhibition. Ullman, whose daughter (Selma Blair) is already famous in the local biker bars for her “criminally enlarged” boobs, becomes a foot soldier in an ongoing war between the local “neuters” and their erotically pumped neighbors.

Spiced with tacky hallucinations and references to arcane practices—”Ever heard of sploshin’?” someone asks—A Dirty Shame is promiscuous in its means and ridiculous in its tolerance. Waters’s far-from-phallocratic sexual democracy is not so much hilarious as goofy and more rousing than arousing—although as a date film, A Dirty Shame would certainly serve to break the ice. Seen as Waters’s contribution to the 2004 election, however, it’s his most radical film in 25 years.

A more genteel argument for sexual diversity, Bill Condon’s Kinsey—another TIFF world premiere, due this fall—stars Liam Neeson, electric hair crackling over his noble profile, as the pioneer sex researcher Alfred Kinsey, who rebelled against his own fundamentalist upbringing to become “the most dangerous man in America.” Condon’s biopic doesn’t have the erotic snap and crackle of Dusan Makavejev’s great Wilhelm Reich picture W.R.: Mysteries of the Organism. The tone is staidly reverential, and yet the middle part—with Kinsey crusading for campus sex education, getting interested in boys, enabling his young assistants to swap wives—is pure Waters. So is the movie’s spelled-out message: “Everybody’s sin is nobody’s sin.”

Both A Dirty Shame and Kinsey can be construed as contributions to current political discourse. Michael Winterbottom’s Nine Songs, which had its first public showings in Toronto, is more hardcore and less programmatic. A structural film, it alternates the mass ecstasy of rock band performances at Brixton Academy with the supposedly private fucking and sucking performances of an attractive young couple. The man’s memories of the affair, recollected as he flies over the snowy wastes of Antarctica, introduce a third formal element. Artistically shot in digital chiaroscuro, this real sex in more-or-less real time encompasses light s/m and a lap dancer. Kieran O’Brien is more grim than his giddy, nonprofessional co-star, Margot Stilley. Dialogue is realistically insipid, and although the 65-minute spectacle is not exactly boring, it’s in no way affecting.

As crass and confrontational as Nine Songs is romantic and lyrical, Lukas Moodysson’s A Hole in My Heart, another world premiere, blatantly bids to drill a hole in your head. It’s chamber drama with a vengeance, shot on the set of the world’s most amateurish amateur porn film. From the opening strobe burst of pocky-looking naked people through the mega-close-ups of labial surgery to the climactic food fight, the Swedish director’s fourth feature is a calculated barf bomb that makes Makavejev’s once scandalous Sweet Movie seem a model of sweet reason.

“I think it is the best film I have ever seen,” Moodysson told his audience, before fleeing to the airport. Be that as it may, the festival’s strongest example of erotic body horror was Anatomy of Hell, by veteran provocateuse Catherine Breillat. A young woman (model Amira Casar) attempts suicide in a gay disco, then hires the man who disdainfully saves her (fuck-film veteran Rocco Siffredi) to watch her where she is “unwatchable.” Anatomy of Hell gives a feminist twist to a French literary tradition that goes back to the Marquis de Sade. It’s also svelte, assured filmmaking—inserts are literally inserts—with a primal insistence on bodily fluids.

Despite the used tampon as a tea bag, Anatomy of Hell is essentially philosophical. The most disturbing thing about Breillat’s treatise on misogyny may be its unique juxtaposition of the cerebral and the visceral. Perhaps that’s why the American distributor chose to preview the film on a cruddy video transfer that reduced the elegant cinematography to the level of hotel room porn. It’s supposed to open here in October.

Categories
Bars CULTURE ARCHIVES FILM ARCHIVES MUSIC ARCHIVES NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES

NY Mirror

JOHN WATERS‘s A Dirty Shame (due September 24) is an educational romp about head-injured Baltimoreans who develop insatiable fetishes of the kind that generally get you your own talk show on WPIX. As a result of that pudenda-laden plotline, I got to sip a lovely spot of tea at the Regency with Waters and his star, TRACEY ULLMAN, and discourse with them on subjects like Roman showers (projectile puking), sploshing (putting food in your private regions—even though people are starving in China), doing a dirty Sanchez (giving someone a light mustache of his or her own feces), and upper-deckers (don’t ask; I just sploshed and I don’t want to get nauseous).

“I just don’t get tickling,” admitted impish Waters, finally announcing where his threshold is. “And can tolerance go too far? Maybe with adult babies.” (Though years after making Pink Flamingos, the auteur realized that putting Edith Massey in a crib had moved the plus-sized diaper phenom into the modern era!)

The distinctly grown-up Ullman, meanwhile, is a sexual firecracker on-screen, but a practical mother of two off. Her bloomers have been understandably knotted ever since insanely literal-minded journalists started asking her if she’s really done all the stuff in the movie. “Oh yes,” she told me, smirking. “I just came down from Wimbledon and I said, ‘Let’s do a dirty Sanchez.’ I’ve been married for 21 years! I’m not into this! And if I were, I wouldn’t tell you,” she added, laughing.

Still, Ullman’s hubby is game enough to have urged her to do the flick, though his logic was, “If you try to look attractive and do subtle things on film, it never works.” Her son approved too, mainly thanks to co-star JOHNNY KNOXVILLE‘s involvement. “Johnny puts cars up his ass and then gets an MRI,” Ullman deadpanned. “My son said, ‘He’s my role model!’ ”

So she went for baroque and multiple-orgasmed it up, doing the immortal cunnilingus scene on the very first day of fisting, I mean filming. It was wackier than a light fecal mustache. Whenever her pseudo-muncher (a computer expert on the side) took his head out from under her skirt for air, Ullman would ask him for downloading advice. “And when my vagina started talking, it was so much fun,” Ullman enthused—an effect that Waters said was achieved by another guy sticking his hand under her frock and digitally impersonating a garrulous snatch. (Considering all the traffic down there, maybe she should have sploshed in some sandwiches and chips.)

“It’s a serious message to women,” insisted Ullman. “The American Pie movies are just about sperm jokes—blokes playing with their willies. This movie says there could be something in there for you, girl.” (Besides yesterday’s lunch.) Alas, Waters’s mom didn’t see it that way. When sonny told her the sexploitation-influenced plot, she wistfully replied, “Maybe we’ll die first.”

Nah, they’ll all be fine; Ullman’s already been through visionary directors, having played WOODY ALLEN‘s wife in the zany caper Small Time Crooks. “That was the first time I looked labial,” she grinned. Waters agreed: “Your hysterectomy pants!”

Rather than offer lip of his own, Waters told me he’s obsessed with “the 9-11 nympho” and left me with reminiscences of a guy he once saw at the late, lamented Hellfire club: “He was licking the floor all night with half a hard-on. I bet he’s alive—though he might get colds and gum problems.” By now, I had my own situation, having sploshed the entire mini-bar into my ass. The result was a combination Roman shower/upper-decker/triple lutz. Judges?


TUCK EVERLASTING

Moving on to some serious hairspray, Wigstock was “the unofficial kickoff party of the Republican convention,” according to host LADY BUNNY, who introduced DUBYA‘s worst nightmare—a stage full of unapologetic drag queens who’d just been caught in the rain. The emphasis was on un-labial old-timers like BOY GEORGE and HOLLY WOODLAWN, but for the younger kids, there was a one-liner segment that was so sick and offensive that I simply have to repeat a couple of the jokes: “How do you turn a fruit into a vegetable? Have a tiger drag him offstage by his throat” and “Why does KOBE BRYANT always cry after sex? It’s the Mace.” (I should know; he tried to pull a dirty Sanchez on me just last week.)

The smut danced on when, as an onstage judge at the Jackie Factory’s Hooker’s Ball at Crobar, I was literally eight inches away from codpieced contestant VINNIE DAZZLE as he got on his knees to unexpectedly deep-throat the more-than-half-a-hard-on of promoter DANIEL NARDICIO and then spit. I was shocked—that he lost.

There was no sex at the MoveOn PAC gala at the Hammerstein Ballroom—just fun Bush-bashing commercials, and photogs yelling at HOWARD DEAN, “Over here! Far left, Mr. Dean.” (“The far left? That’s how I like it,” he replied, laughing, not screaming.) The only weird moment was a comic’s impassioned speech about how Repubs are so evil to want to prohibit gay marriage. Guess what, kid, KERRY‘s against it too!

[


JERSEY GIRL

Staying with the gay-marriage theme, I’m still lovin’ the spin that MRS. McGREEVEY didn’t know her philandering bozo hubby was gay. From LIZA to ARIANNA HUFFINGTON to Rock Hudson’s wife, no one will ever admit, “I sort of knew. It was an unspoken arrangement made of convenience and power.” That would sound so crass. Besides, many of these women convince themselves that the marriage is real and therefore are being sort of honest (albeit in a semi-delusional way) when they say, “I had no idea.” But from now on, all y’all closet fag hags should check with me before exchanging vows, deal?

Former mayor ED KOCH—who’s coming out with a children’s book—was asked by WLIW’s Q&A host SEEMA KALIA for his take on the McGreevey announcement, seeing as Koch has been “the subject of speculation” himself. Koch turned weird and said, “Let me ask you something. Has anyone ever committed oral sex on you?” (Like who, Vinnie Dazzle?) Kalia is still in shock from the remark—which PBS, the overseer, almost cut—though she understood that he meant sexuality is irrelevant to the job. Ed, you garrulous snatch!

I’ll shut mine up now, but only after reporting that devilishly cute PAUL LOMBARDI told me he’s left NY1, moved to L.A., and is working with a doctor on a book defending cosmetic surgery. I need some— to remove last week’s sploshing!


LITTER BOX

PUSH PUSH OUT DA BUSH






Masked, mocking marchers
photo: Drew Tillman

Violent anarchists on a rampage? Nah, Sunday’s massive peace rally was filled, duh, with peaceniks, and—despite overhyped incidents—the biggest terror seemed to be wondering whether the overhead surveillance vehicles would crash into each other. The march’s slogans were expectedly hostile—everything from “Lick Bush” to “Send Jenna”—but the throng was generally so orderly in carrying and screaming them that the surrounding cops looked more bored to tears than born for tear gas. A furor alert wasn’t reached until we finally arrived at the Garden and the blinking marquee lights said, “Thank you, New York.” “You’re not welcome! GOP go home!” screamed the crowd (which included a giant blow-up phallus—not the last exposed genital we’d see looking for action during convention week).

That night, at a “God Save New York” concert at Coral Room, emcee Karen Finley went after both Dick (“His heart doesn’t work!”) and dick (she shaved a Dubya look-alike’s exposed crotch—told you—though she didn’t lick bush).

As for phallus-ies, no one I’ve talked to is buying Cheney’s sudden support for gay marriage, an impeccably timed attempt at a good cop/bad cop situation (you know, “We’re barbarians—but nice“). I prefer the bored cops.


WEB EXTRA

As Bloomberg’s press rep, Edward Skyler, got into the elevator to go up to TV reporter Andrew Kirtzman’s pre-convention bash, a guy who was leaving yelled, “Tell the mayor to support gay marriage!” Luckily for Skyler, the door then promptly shut. . . . Maria Shriver was seen eating at the Maritime. You heard me—eating. . . . The stars and makers of Open Water were just photographed for Vanity Fair in the big aquatic tank of the club Coral Room. For at least one of them, it was even more terrifying than making the movie. . . . The New York Times is doing a piece on the old Nell’s (the Victorian-style ’80s lounge) versus the new, reopening one. I’m the only one alive who can make the comparison—and I’m not talking. . . . But I was willing to write a piece for New York magazine’s convention issue and was even offered the assignment at Beige, only to later pick up the ish and find it was written by someone else. How many times am I gonna get screwed on these hooker articles?. . . . Meanwhile, PM magazine will report that Elton John wants John Waters to know he’d love to play the late, plus-size, shit-eating drag legend Divine. ANOTHER opportunity I’m gonna get screwed out of!


A COUPLE MORE THINGS

Sixties legend and Ol’ Blue Eyes’s daughter Nancy Sinatra has an exciting new album, Nancy Sinatra, which drops (yeah, I’m hep to all the new lingo) on September 14. Featuring collaborations with Morrissey and U2’s Bono and the Edge, the CD is a moody kaleidoscope that shoots Nancy into the future, attitudey boots intact. . . . In local music news, personable cable host Barry Z has brought his weekly Monday night talent show to the Gramercy Theater, where this week’s edition treated us to a smorgasboard of novelty acts, like Steve Herbst (a whistler with a large bottle of water onstage) and Rita Ellis Hammer, an ex-TV star who belted Fats Waller and Gershwin tunes with rafter-shaking aplomb. It all helped drown out the convention.

[


musto@villagevoice.com

Categories
Bars Living NEW YORK CITY ARCHIVES NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES

Listings

I was feeling like a pickled chinchilla the afternoon I first became utterly bobo besotted with, over the moon for, Duane Reade. Truly I had only wanted to stick my head into a pot of Noxzema when—shazam!—they played Tracey Ullman’s “They Don’t Know” at the checkout counter. When that sweet, cherished song was backed up with the velvet cream of “Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl),” I practically lost my gordita contemplating the dottiness of this revelation: Despite being a chain of 212 drug stores across New York City, Duane Reade is also—Duane Reade, just imagine!—a sporadically splendid venue to hear free music. Particularly if you are indifferent to throwing devil’s signs amid Scooby-Doo Chia Pets and Binky pacifiers.

And so I decided to investigate. Phone calls to Duane Reade’s corporate office seeking comment on how soundtracks are chosen—personal mix tapes? prefab compilations? DJ?—were not returned by press time. Requests for interviews were also declined by store managers, who referred all questions to Duane Reade headquarters. Thus what follows is strictly what I gleaned during the course of proselytizing a pharmacy as the next dark-horse Mercury Lounge.

And so, first dispatch: The Duane Reade on 14th Street and Seventh Avenue is the living end if you happen to be the recently jilted Fifth Horsewoman of the Apocalypse. During my last field trip, Natalie Merchant’s “Just Can’t Last” was trailed by “Alone,” the brooding Heart lamentation about no answers on telephones. Then, pinky swear, an r&b version of Journey’s opus melancholia “Who’s Crying Now” wailed from aisle to aisle.

Nearly as achy-breaky, but on the opposite side of downtown, Duane Reade’s 24-hour store on Broadway and East 9th Street seduced a couple of weeks back by shadowing “Love on the Rocks,” Neil Diamond’s rotten-amour dirge, with a Muzak rendition of Dionne Warwick’s “That’s What Friends Are For.” It swooned orchestral and glorious, sprinkling fairy dust from Feminine Hygiene/Baby clear across to Stomach/Stationary/Tissue.

Second datum posited: Too much Paul Simon, if shopper Linda Suarez’s response to “Loves Me Like a Rock” is any indication. “You get dizzy walking around here because the music’s so boring,” she snapped. Tattled her friend Amber Smalls, “She just wishes they were playing 50 Cent. He’s all wanksta-ish.”

Now, both the Duane Reade on Broadway, between 83rd and 84th streets, as well as the one tucked near the corner of Broadway and Houston, tune their speakers to CD101.9 “Smooth Jazz.” As intrepid reporting rarely concludes without the intrepid reporter imperiously inserting her three cents about the report in question, here is mine. Heavens to Betsy Ross, this is the most sanitized, elevator-bland radio station on the planet, and just because Duane Reade is an advertiser does not mean it has to inflict a lobotomy via Kenny G.’s “Paradise” on its patrons. “This is pretty smoothin’; you can work through it,” said Robert Taylor, who stocks shelves at the Broadway and Houston store. “But I’m 24 and I like Biggie and Jay-Z and Nas, you know?”