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Monday notebook

By Rich Heldenfels Published: July 6, 2015

If you have not seen the story already, here's mine about the new movie "Trainwreck" getting a special Akron preview. It stars Amy Schumer but is also a showcase for a young man from Akron named LeBron James.

Also of local note is this story about the making of the Cleveland classic "Major League." Sportswriter Jonathan Knight tells the tale in a new book. You can read more about the book here.

The Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage had some people asking whether pop culture efforts such as "Modern Family" and Ellen DeGeneres's talk show affected the way the public thinks about the issue. I considered that, and the relationship between pop culture and social issues generally, in this column.

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WKSU changes weekend lineup 7/11 and 7/12; previews shows next week

By Rich Heldenfels Published: July 2, 2015

Here's the official word:

WKSU is changing its Saturday and Sunday program schedules starting on Saturday, July 11 and Sunday, July 12. The station is adding The Moth Radio Hour and moving Snap Judgment to Saturdays, creating a “storytelling block” with This American Life beginning at noon. Radiolab moves to 3 p.m. An hour dedicated to limited run specials (like last year’s Invisibilia) and hour-long documentaries will air weekly on Saturdays before All Things Considered. Says WKSU Program Director Ele Ellis, “Invisibilia was part of a significant trend in public radio. It is vital for WKSU to have a dedicated time for these exciting and worthwhile programs.” The station’s initial airings in this slot include the investigative documentary series Reveal.


Sundays will now be home to a “food block” with the radio version of America’s Test Kitchen following Lynne Rossetto Kasper’s The Splendid Table at 3 p.m. The Christopher Kimball-hosted ATK will also include a weekly rebroadcast of Vivian Goodman’s Beard Award-finalist Quick Bites segment. Ellis says, “Food – eating, growing and cooking – is something everyone relates to, especially in Northeast Ohio. Being a ‘foodie’ here seems part of the region’s DNA!” To make room for food lovers, the TED Radio Hour now airs at 4 p.m.

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NBC's Donald Trump statement and a couple of mine

By Rich Heldenfels Published: June 29, 2015

Here's the full text of the network's Trump-dumped announcement:

At NBC, respect and dignity for all people are cornerstones of our values.

Due to the recent derogatory statements by Donald Trump regarding immigrants, NBCUniversal is ending its business relationship with Mr. Trump.

To that end, the annual Miss USA and Miss Universe Pageants, which are part of a joint venture between NBC and Trump, will no longer air on NBC.

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RIP, Chris Thompson

By Rich Heldenfels Published: June 29, 2015

The writer and producer passed away over the weekend. A rather sad obit is here. I did not always like his work, but I liked him in all his flawed glory. And he did have a hand in one of the great short-lived series, "Action." Here are a couple of things I wrote about that show, the first from before its premiere in 1999.

  In the elaborate ritual that television networks call censoring themselves, there are nuances that may be lost on viewers.
Take Action, the wickedly funny new sitcom premiering at 9 tonight on Fox.
This show is the new poster child for pushing the envelope. Very early in the pilot, movie producer Peter Dragon (played by Jerry Maguire's Jay Mohr) launches into a bleep-laden tirade. Dragon also consorts with prostitute Wendy Ward (Illeana Douglas), who becomes a close business adviser. And he is humiliated by a gay movie-studio boss (who is also married to Dragon's ex-wife) when the boss insists on meeting with Dragon after emerging, naked, from a shower.
Now, this being commercial network television, we never actually see what humbles Dragon. And even during that bleep-fest, series creator Chris Thompson said, Fox was watching some elements very closely.
"There are all kinds of technical terms I had no idea about," he said at a news conference in Pasadena, Calif., in July. "One is called 'lip flap,' that when you say the F-word, for instance, there's a specific lip flap, and that can't be shown while you're saying the F-word."
During Dragon's rant, Thompson said, the cameras circle him and the object of his rant, or focus only on Dragon's eyes, "literally to cover the lip flap."
Now, if anyone can figure out how to work through these sorts of details, it's probably Thompson. He's been through these wars before. In 1995, as he still recalls with great amusement, ABC censors made him change the bottle holding a urine sample on The Naked Truth because the bottle he was using looked as if it was holding urine. (ABC made him substitute an opaque bottle.)
There's also a recurring joke about urine in Action, by the way, but don't think that sums up Thompson's sense of humor.
Action is vulgar, decadent, envelope-pushing, tasteless and -- despite the fact that it will be on the air at 8 p.m. in some time zones -- not remotely family viewing.
But for an adult comedy, its pilot was at times very funny. (A second episode, airing at 9:30 p.m., was not available for preview.) Thompson is unrelenting in portraying the lengths to which people will go to achieve success in show business, the depths to which failure takes them (Wendy Ward is a former actress) and the way they occasionally try to cling to scraps of propriety.
One of the best scenes in the Action pilot has nothing to do with raw language and vulgarity, and everything to do with the decline of our culture. In it, an agent pitches a client to Dragon, without at first giving the client's name. It turns out to be O.J. Simpson, and the argument over whether Dragon should hire him is swift -- and Swiftian -- in its presentation of Hollywood's moral blind spots.
"I believe that for the satire to be effective, that the reality has to be blurred just slightly," Thompson said. So the show drops names, has real-life cameos (Keanu Reeves is in the premiere) and -- in the scene with the agent -- comes across as absolutely plausible.
The pilot had some weak spots (a bit of slapstick with Douglas and a limousine, a urine joke) but it still worked. And Thompson is ambitious about the series, hoping to follow Dragon making a single movie over the course of 22 episodes. (The show's order is only for 13 episodes, but Thompson's optimism is considerable.)
And if that story unfolds with the same verve that the pilot had, it could be one wild season.

(Unfortunately, it was canceled during the first season. Here's a little more, including a telling note about Thompson, from my review of the DVD release of "Action" in 2006.)

  DVD pick of the week: For TV and movie fans, the pick is clear. First thing Tuesday, find Action: The Complete Series (Sony, 13 episodes, two discs, $24.96).
Action is one of the great lost series of the 1990s, a half-hour Fox comedy that offered an almost-no-holds-barred look at the making of a major movie.
The focus is Peter Dragon (Jay Mohr), a foul-mouthed and unethical producer who needs a big hit and needs it quickly. Created by Chris Thompson, the series hoped to use an entire season to follow the making of the movie. It dropped real names (and had Salma Hayek, Sandra Bullock and others playing themselves). It was full of bleeps and pixeled-out images. And it was terrific.
Unfortunately, the series had a terrible time being made. It was originally planned for HBO, which would have been a perfect home for it; imagine Entourage with Jeremy Piven as the central character, and you're close to Action. But Thompson wanted more money than HBO was offering. "I like whores and narcotics and cars and trips," Thompson says in a making-of feature on the DVD (giving you an idea of how close to the bone Action is.)
Fox was offered a chance at the show, loved it -- and things went to pieces. Going from premium cable to broadcast also meant going from uncensored to constant fights over content. In addition, there were conflicts within the cast; Illeana Douglas is not fondly remembered, since she was hired to play a prostitute and then, according to the DVD extras, didn't like playing a prostitute. Ratings were not good, and long before production ended, Action knew it was dead.

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Sunday notebook

By Rich Heldenfels Published: June 28, 2015

Here's what I put on Facebook recently:

Where Pride Month is meant to celebrate LGBT people, I am feeling very proud right now. Proud to live in a country that, for all its flaws, has made health insurance possible for so many more of the poor and needy. Proud that it has recognized the right for more couples to marry and enjoy not only the spiritual but legal rights that come with that. Proud to have a president whose rhetoric can soar as he reminds us of how amazing grace is for all of us wretches. And, regardless of what Scalia may imagine about the way Southerners and Christians think, I am proud both as a believer and as a son of the South that the court ruled the way it did on Friday. There will be days when I lament its decisions. There will be times when I object to choices made by people I have supported and voted for. But not just now. For me, this is indeed Pride Month.

A point I did not make there, but has been on my mind, is the way some people take issues like gay rights and try to make them about something that better fits their world view. The Supreme Court decision, for example, has been painted as an attack on relgious belief when it is nothing of the sort. And, even before the decision, I wrote about the way arguments turn around. You can read that piece here.

Bob West, the well regarded film and pop-culture expert, passed away not long ago. I wote about his life and work here.

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Amy Schumer offers "disappointing" lap dance for charity. Yes, you read that right.

By Rich Heldenfels Published: June 25, 2015

The official word: Amy Schumer, writer and star of the upcoming comedy, TrainWreck, has promised a disappointing lap dance for the winner of Universals TrainWreck Premiere Experience hosted on CrowdRise to benefit the National Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Society, an organization that is very dear to her heart.

As a child, Schumer's father was diagnosed with MS. Watching the disease progress had a profound impact on her, and its a storyline that features in the movie. The fundraiser will raise money and support for a cure and to address the challenges of everyone, like Schumer, affected by MS.

The contest launched this week and ends July 6th at Fans of Schumer, director Judd Apatow, and the comedian-heavy cast can donate for a chance to win a VIP experience that includes 2 tickets to the New York Premiere of TrainWreck on July 14th, round-trip airfare, 2 nights in a 4 star hotel, a walk down the red carpet and a photo opp session with the cast of the film. As a bonus, Bill Hader will hand deliver the winner popcorn with special truffle salt.

Schumer and Apatow explain everything in a launch video at

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NBC orders second season of "Aquarius"

By Rich Heldenfels Published: June 25, 2015

Network proclaims digital victory, The official word: NBC has given a second-season renewal for its 1960’s-themed drama “Aquarius,” starring David Duchovny as an LAPD cop on the hunt for Charles Manson, it was announced today by Jennifer Salke, President, NBC Entertainment.

The critically acclaimed drama made TV history in May as the first broadcast series to be streamed in its entirety following its debut, with NBC making all 12 “Aquarius” episodes available online for the four weeks following its intial NBC telecast.

Salke commented, “With its riveting drama and innovative release strategy, ‘Aquarius’ has excited the critics, hooked millions of viewers and energized our summer. It’s no secret that the way people watch television is evolving, so we took a unique approach to how we delivered ‘Aquarius’ and it’s driven some record numbers for NBC Digital and helped us reach viewers who might have otherwise overlooked a great summer drama.”

Added Robert Hayes, Executive Vice President of NBC Entertainment Digital, “Beyond generating some truly impressive view totals, the network’s unique release strategy with ‘Aquarius’ has helped us gain new insights into viewership patterns, binging behavior and social engagement, significantly expanding our knowledge of how people are watching our shows online.”

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More fall premiere dates: Fox, CW, NBC

By Rich Heldenfels Published: June 25, 2015

Fox is new today. The others came out while I was on vacation but I am posting here, starting with Fox: 

Sunday, Sept. 20


5:00-8:00 PM LIVE PT

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Notes from the road

By Rich Heldenfels Published: June 18, 2015

I have been on vacation, and still am, hence the rarity of posts here. I don't expect to post much, if at all, until next week. I have done occasional tweets and FB posts if you are following me there. Of course, most of those are pictures of the beach and of food. And right now, those are my priorities.

As for other things right now:

Pray for the good people of Charleston, SC, and disregard the haters who feel the need to spread their hostility around such disasters.

As I said after the NBA Finals: Sorry about the Cavs but they did better than anyone, including LeBron James, thought when the season began. Great ride!

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Video: Two Guys Talkin' about late night music directors

By Published: June 11, 2015

Akron Beacon Journal writers Malcolm Abram and Rich Heldenfels talk about late night musical directors.

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